More than 1.2 million children attending public school lack a home of their own, my colleague Douglas Rice recently noted. They also are at greater risk of hunger. The school meal programs, by providing a healthy breakfast and lunch at no charge, can help meet the nutritional needs of homeless children — as well as millions of other vulnerable low-income children who can’t count on getting enough to eat.
Two program features make it easier for children whose families are going through especially hard times to obtain school meals.
Automatic enrollment for homeless children. Regardless of where they attend school, children who are homeless automatically qualify for free school meals. Their families don’t have to complete an application; once an appropriate school official identifies a child as homeless, the child can be approved for free school meals. Moreover, starting this school year, eligibility begins as soon as the official notifies the school nutrition program, so children don’t go hungry or have to pay for school meals if school nutrition staff can’t immediately complete the enrollment process.
Community eligibility. Schools in poor neighborhoods, where unstable housing can be widespread, can eliminate applications altogether and serve meals at no charge to all students under the Community Eligibility Provision. Thousands of high-poverty schools use this option to serve meals without paperwork or stigma.
Let’s make sure that schools fully utilize these tools to ensure that homeless children get two healthy meals each school day.