Child Nutrition Reauthorization 2010: Categorical Eligibility of Foster Children for Free School Meals

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued additional guidance regarding the application process for free school meals for foster children, including, at the request of Indian organizations, clarification regarding the status of foster children placed by tribal child welfare agencies and tribal courts. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (Act) signed as Public Law 111-296 on December 13, 2010, provides that children placed in foster homes are to be automatically eligible for free meals and to be certified without application. The USDA has clarified that the provision applies to foster children placed with caretaker households by tribal courts and by tribal agencies which have approved child welfare services plans under Title IV-B (Child and Family Services) or Title IV-E (Foster Care and Adoption Assistance) of the Social Security Act.

One goal of the Act is to streamline certain aspects of the application process for free or reduced-price school meals. Section 102 of the Act amends Section 9(b)(12)(A) of the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Act of 1996 (NSLA) to provide categorical eligibility for free meals, without further application, to any foster child whose care and placement is the responsibility of a state or who is placed by a court with a caretaker household. Additionally, the Act amends Section 9(b)(5) of the NSLA to allow certification of a foster child for free meals, without application, if the local educational agency or other child nutrition program institution obtains documentation from an appropriate state or local agency indicating the status of the child as a foster child whose care and placement is the responsibility of the state or that the foster child has been placed with a caretaker household by a court.

The new eligibility provisions apply to foster children who are “the responsibility of the State” or “placed by a court,” leaving unclear whether tribal child welfare agencies or tribal court foster placements are covered by these provisions and resulting in a request for clarification. In the attached Memorandum (Memo SP 17-2011, CACFP 08-2011, SFSP 05-2011 – Revised), the USDA clarifies that the new eligibility provisions apply to tribal court and tribal child welfare agency placements so long as the agency has an approved Title IV-B or Title IV-E plan or if the agency operates under a tribal-state Title IV-E agreement for the placement and care of children eligible under § 472(a) of the Social Security Act. Many tribes receive Title IV-B funds and about 90 tribes have Title IV-E agreements with a state.

The Act reauthorizes and revises programs contained in the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The Act reauthorizes through fiscal year 2015 the following: (1) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); (2) Summer Food Service Program; (3) State Administrative Expense Program; and (4) WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. The Act also makes revisions to programs that are permanently authorized under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Generally, the Act contains changes that are intended to increase access to meal programs, improve nutrition standards for school-based and preschool meal programs, set nutrition standards for all foods sold in elementary and secondary schools, and promote nutrition and healthy eating.

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