The long hot summer is waning; it will soon be fall and back to school.
We don’t get to talk about using funds often, and I wanted to share what I have learned about using ARP-HCY funds to purchase Food.
When ARP-HCY came out, many LEAs thought it would be great to help families with Food. Of course, the intent was good, but using funds to purchase Food for the family is not an allowable expense. ARP-HCY has always been a student-centered grant; therefore, the money must go to the student, not the family.
ARP HCY use of funds: “ARP -HCY funds are uniquely flexible funds to support the identification, enrollment, and school participation of children and youth experiencing homelessness., including wraparound services.” Flexible is the key word. I can hear you all saying, "Well, if they are so flexible, why was my request denied for food?” Kids have to eat. That is true; students experiencing homelessness have to eat. In the early days of this grant, I had many food requests, and I wished I could approve them all. I mean, who wants to deny kids Food—I knew at the time that I didn’t.
I remember writing this to Schoolhouse Connection for clarification on Food. “Many of my LEAs wanted to allow gift cards for the whole family to buy Food. And they wanted Food for a food bank to help the families. As I told Erin (Patterson, Director of Education Initiatives (She/Her/Hers), schoolhouse Connection), USED wants this money to go to the student, not the whole family. So—we agree on Food for students. Jacinda reminded me that Food is allowable for the student, including breakfast and lunch. Food can be an allowable expense if it is a healthy snack versus a meal to get an undernourished student experiencing homelessness through the day.
Karen Rice, Senior Program Manager of Education Initiatives (she/her/hers) for SchoolHouse Connections, received numerous emails from me about Food. She responded, “Yes, I completely agree on the snacks vs. meals. If I remember back to my Title I budget approval days, I think we only approved "light snacks" under both Title I and EHCY. Other ways to get snacks for students are worth exploring. When I was a liaison, we had a food pantry/community resource that would supply anyone on our social work team (and me) with snacks for students. Once a week, we could pick up a box of non-perishable snacks and keep them in our offices for students who needed a little extra during the day. These community partnerships help make it more sustainable, although only some communities can access a pantry or resource like this. We did a webinar a few weeks ago on food resources. We had a liaison share her strategies to connect families to food resources (not specific to ARP, but still valuable!). The liaison did an excellent job with the strategies, so feel free to share it with your liaisons if it's helpful! (https://schoolhouseconnection.org/learn/webinars/archived-webinars/)
While Food is not allowable for the family, it is for the student. The biggest argument one can make is that buying Food will remove an educational barrier—it's hard to argue with that. In other words, the student experiencing homelessness is so hungry that he/she can’t think straight.
A great example—Pershing County School District Breaking Ground by making Food an allowable expense. The key to Pershing County’s food scenario was they bought Food to remove a barrier allowing the student to participate in an activity.
The situation involved a long bus ride dealing with sports. Pershing is a remote school district, so when an athlete travels for a game, it can be a long bus ride that often requires students to spend time away from home.
In this scenario, a student experiencing homelessness was a team member. During out-of-town sporting events, student-athletes need to bring money for Food. For a student experiencing homelessness, it's a financial hardship. The coach often asked him if he was hungry, telling that student that he would buy the meal for him, but the student would decline and say he was not hungry.
Pershing solved this problem by thinking outside the box. ARP-HCY allows the use of gift cards. Pershing purchased visa-gift cards, gave them to their students experiencing homelessness, and enabled them to buy a meal. They not only removed a participation barrier but a stigma too.