Within Minnesota’s 32 Head Start programs, each program’s programming is unique and designed to best serve their communities.  However, the Office of Head Start, through the Head Start Act of 2007 and the Head Start Program Performance Standards, sets forth some guidelines regarding who is eligible to be served by the program.

The goal is to develop and implement a system that ensures each program identifies and enrolls the children and families with the greatest need for Head Start services. 

At least 90 percent of families eligible for Head Start or Early Head Start must have incomes that are at or below the Federal poverty guidelines, click here for the most current poverty guidelines.  Programs are required to obtain documentation of this income to verify it is correct / accurate. 

Persons in Family / HouseholdAnnual Income / Poverty Guideline
Federal Poverty Guidelines for 2020 for the 48 contiguous states and District of Columbia

In addition to being eligible by a family’s income level, there are other ways that families can become eligible for the program without taking income into consideration.

Public Assistance.  Families that are receiving public assistance such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are automatically eligible for the program.  Programs need to verify receipt of these programs.

Homeless.  Families that are experiencing homelessness are automatically eligible for the program.  Programs are required to write their policies based on the HSPPS and the McKinney-Vinto Act.  Each program will verify a family’s homeless status differently.  Families in a kinship care situation can often be considered eligible under the homeless category, as the child may be homeless due to the family situation.  See your local programs guidelines for more information.

Foster Care.  Foster children are automatically eligible for the program, no matter the foster family’s income level.  Programs will require documentation of the foster care status.  

Throughout the state, the need of families exceeds funded capacity.  Head Start grantees develop a set of criteria to help them determine who, of those that apply, will receive services.  This criteria may include such criterion as a diagnosed disability, homelessness or sheltered living, proximity to entering kindergarten having received no services, and more.

Families should be aware that there is a difference between ELIGIBILTY and ENROLLMENT.  Families can be eligible for the program, but due to high need may not actually become enrolled in the program.  As stated above, each program must develop a criteria list that helps them determine who will get a “slot” or “seat” in a classroom. 

In addition to those served according to the eligibility guidelines, programs are allowed to serve a certain percentage of families that fall over the income guidelines.  Programs take this into consideration as they develop their selection criteria, including a point system to ensure that if a family is over income, that they also have a higher criteria or priority score.

Each program is required to serve at least 10% of its funded enrollment that are children with a diagnosed disability.  This may be a reason why an “over income” child is served by a program.

Migrant and Seasonal programs have some additional guidelines to follow for eligibility in their programs. 


To be eligible for Migrant and Seasonal Head Start services, children must meet all three requirements of age, migrant or seasonal status, and income.

Age  Eligible applicants for the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program include children ages six weeks up to five years of age, and pregnant women.

Income To be eligible for any Head Start program a family is legally required to have their income verified by the program once every two years.

Migrant Status  To be eligible as a Migrant family, the family has to have changed residency from one reasonable location to another within the past 24 months for qualifying agricultural work (seeking, obtained or contracted to work).  Qualifying agricultural activities of migrant families must be seasonal or temporary as defined in the Enrollment Manual.  A family is eligible to re-apply for Head Start services for up to two years after the qualifying arrival date listed on their Certificate of Eligibility.

SEASONAL PROGRAMS To be eligible as a seasonal family, the family will have not changed residency in the past 24 months and is primarily engaged in seasonal agricultural work.  Qualifying agricultural activities of seasonal families must be “seasonal” as defined in the Enrollment policy.