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Disaster Relief Guidelines

This web page provides guidance for meals served to children and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods available to affected communities during state or federally declared disasters. The California Department of Education (CDE) Disaster Resources web page provides additional information on resources available to local educational agencies during and after a disaster.

State regulations offer schools or districts participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) flexibility in the reimbursement requirements when the community is affected by a state or federally declared disaster.

Federal regulations offer schools or districts participating in all Child Nutrition Programs (CNP) flexibility in the meal service and eligibility requirements when the community is affected by a state or federally declared disaster.

State Regulations

California Education Code (EC) Section 49505:

  • Allows schools participating in the NSLP to serve meals at no charge to a student who has been rendered homeless because of a state or federally declared disaster. Schools or districts may temporarily claim and be reimbursed for these meals in the free category on their monthly claim for reimbursement, regardless of the student’s eligibility for meal benefits. Management Bulletin CNP-02-2015 (April 2015) further defines the term homeless and outlines the protocol that districts must follow to claim meals for homeless children.

  • Exempts school districts and county offices of education participating in the NSLP from serving all required meal components of a reimbursable meal during a state or federally declared disaster. All CNP Operators are required to keep documentation for the exemption.

In addition, schools that are closed due to a state or federally declared disaster may apply for reimbursement to offset fixed expenses, such as salaries that continue to accrue during the temporary closure. Applications should be submitted immediately after the disaster. However, payment is contingent upon available funding after the end of the state’s fiscal year (i.e., after June 30 each year).

State disaster reimbursement is equal to the average daily participation (the number of meals normally served) multiplied by the average combined state and federal reimbursement rate received by the school or district in the month prior to the closure, multiplied by the number of days the school or district is closed. Please complete the CDE Application for Meal Reimbursement During Disaster (DOC).

Federal Regulations

Federal regulations refer to CNPs, including the NSLP, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) policy memoranda:

  • USDA FNS Policy Memo SP 46-2014 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) states that students residing in or evacuated from disaster areas may be determined homeless under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act and that a school district’s homeless coordinator makes a determination of homelessness and provides a list of all children determined homeless or displaced due to a disaster situation. The NSLP, CACFP or SFSP sponsor must certify these children for free meals.

  • USDA FNS Policy Memo SP 55-2016 External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) encourages NSLP, CACFP, and SFSP sponsors to use certain flexibilities to help ensure that students do not experience a lapse in food security when natural disasters or other events force area schools to close.

Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR), Section 210.10(m)(4):

  • School Nutrition Programs (SNP), CACFP and SFSP Operators are permitted to serve meals that do not meet the menu planning or meal pattern requirements in disaster situations. In the CACFP, 7 CFR, Section 226.20(h), allows special variations in the food components of meals.

Further, program operators are allowed flexibility regarding the use of USDA Foods during a state or federally declared disaster (7 CFR, Part 250; Food Distribution Program Administrative Manual, Chapter 6), with prior approval from the CDE:

  • Disaster relief organizations may designate schools as community feeding sites or request schools to provide their foods to other feeding sites. USDA Foods are to be released upon request to recognized disaster relief organizations such as the American Red Cross or the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Management Bulletin 02-401 (March 2002) provides complete information regarding USDA Foods usage during a disaster.

Contact Information

If you have questions regarding school meal disaster relief policies, please contact your SNP Specialist by phone at 800-952-5609, Option 2, or by looking them up on our CDE SNP Specialist Directory web page.

For more information about USDA Foods, contact Augie Aguilar, Food Administration Manager, Nutrition Services Division, by phone at 916-445-4850 or by email at

If you need assistance with your disaster reimbursement claims, please contact your assigned fiscal analyst on the CDE Nutrition Services web page.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609  
Last Reviewed: Thursday, September 5, 2019
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