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Foster Children Now Eligible for Free Meals/Milk

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin

Purpose: Policy, Action Required, Beneficial Information

To: School Nutrition Program Sponsors

Number: USDA-SNP-25-2012

Attention: Food Service Directors

Date: May 2012

Subject: Foster Children Now Eligible for Free Meals/Milk

Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Policy Memo SP 17-2011
Supersedes: Nutrition Services Division Information Alert USDA-CNP-01-2011: Categorical Eligibility of Foster Children

This Management Bulletin (MB) supersedes Information Alert USDA-CNP-01-2011, Categorical Eligibility of Foster Children, and provides new guidance on the certification of foster children for categorical (automatic) eligibility for free meals/milk.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), Public Law 111-296, amended Section 9(b)(12)(A) of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to provide categorical eligibility for free meals/milk to foster children. The HHFKA identifies a foster child as any child whose care and placement is the responsibility of the state, or who is placed with a caretaker household by a court. It does not apply to informal arrangements that exist outside of a court of law.

New Requirements

The HHFKA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) require that foster children are no longer considered a household of one. Previously, each foster child’s household had to submit a separate application on behalf of a foster child for free and reduced-price (FRP) meals/milk. This provision changes the way FRP applications are processed.

Local educational agencies (LEAs) and child nutrition (CN) program sponsors/agencies can still obtain a household eligibility application indicating a child is a foster child. However, no further application is required, unless a reviewer selects the application for verification. During verification, LEAs and CN agencies must obtain confirmation from an appropriate state or local agency indicating the status of the child as a foster child. 

Households may choose to include foster children on their household eligibility application along with non-foster children in order to qualify the household for FRP meals/milk. This new process may help the foster household’s non-foster children to qualify for FRP meals/milk based on household size and income. The LEA or other CN agencies must certify the foster child for free meals/milk and then make an eligibility determination for the remainder of the household, based on the household’s size and income (including personal income earned by the foster child), or other categorical eligibility information (e.g., CalFresh benefits, etc.) reported on the household eligibility application.

The household must report any personal income received by the foster child on their household eligibility application. However, households are not required to report payments received from the placing agency for the care of the foster child.

Note: Foster children listed on the household eligibility application do not automatically qualify the household for FRP meals/milk, unless the foster child is also receiving CalWORKs or CalFresh (formerly Food Stamp) benefits.

Residential Child Care Institutions and Group Homes

Residential Child Care Institutions (RCCIs) and Group Homes also need to modify their current household eligibility process. Each child residing in an RCCI is considered a household of one. An application must be completed for each child or the RCCI may use an eligibility documentation sheet for all children residing in the RCCI. The documentation sheet must provide information indicating the child’s name and personal income received by the child. The documentation sheet must be signed by an appropriate RCCI official and provide the official’s title and contact information.

Children attending an RCCI’s day school, but not residing in an RCCI, are considered members of their own households and their eligibility is determined by using a household application or through direct certification.

Direct Certification of Foster Children in School Nutrition Programs

The California Department of Education (CDE) recognizes that there is a need to establish a direct process to certify free meal eligibility and to reduce the number of household eligibility applications for foster children that participate in the National School Lunch Program. To assist LEAs in doing this, the CDE worked with the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to develop a process that will directly identify foster children through local county welfare agencies.

Required Action

The CDSS and the CDE collaborated on developing a county-specific report that identifies foster children who have been placed in foster care by court or welfare agencies within zip codes that are served by school districts within county boundaries.

Please read the CDSS All County Information Notice disseminating the categorical eligibility of children in foster care for school nutrition programs at [Note: The preceding link is no longer valid]. County child welfare departments have been instructed to assist and share the reports as needed or requested by the LEAs for their service areas, or pursuant to local agreements, to exchange foster care information for purposes of certifying qualified foster children. A list of child welfare department contacts for LEAs that have questions regarding foster children in their district is available on the CDE CalFresh County Contacts for Direct Certification Web page at LEAs should use this list to contact the appropriate child welfare department to obtain a list of foster students.

The CDE does not require that this provision be implemented retroactively. Therefore, no action is required for children currently enrolled. However, if a child is known to be a foster child as defined in this MB, we encourage LEAs and CN agencies to immediately make these foster children categorically eligible for free meals/milk. All household applications and supporting materials must be updated to reflect these changes as soon as possible.

For more information regarding the implementation of categorical eligibility of foster children, please see USDA Policy Memo SP 17-2011, CACFP 08-2011, SFSP 05-2011: Child Nutrition Reauthorization 2010: Categorical Eligibility of Foster Children (revised) on the USDA School Meals Policy Memos Web page at

If you have any questions about this MB, please contact your assigned School Nutrition Program (SNP) specialist. The SNP specialist list is available in the Child Nutrition and Payment System, Download Forms section, Form ID Caseload. You can also contact an SNP Office Technician by phone at 916-322-1450, 916-322-3005, or 800-952-5609, Option 2 [The preceding information is no longer valid.] email at to be directed to your SNP specialist.

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Thursday, January 18, 2024
Related Content
  • Direct Certification
    A federally mandated process that sponsors must use to certify school-age recipients of CalFresh and CalWORKs benefits as eligible for free school meals without further application.
  • Reminder: Direct Certification is Mandatory
    Management Bulletin NSD-SNP-08-2012: Reminder: Direct certification is mandatory in federal meal programs for all agency types.
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