Direct certification is a federally mandated electronic data-matching process that determines the eligibility for free school meals based on student participation in other need-based programs.
Schools have the chance to boost participation in school meal programs, feeding more kids more efficiently through the use of direct certification.
Students are eligible for school meals through direct certification if they meet any of these criteria:
- Live in households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) benefits
- Live in households at or below 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and a child receives Medicaid benefits
- Live in households receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance
- Live in households receiving Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) benefits
- Are enrolled in foster care; migrant, homeless, or runaway programs; Head Start, or state-sponsored pre-K programs
Direct certification helps students from low-income families who are at a higher risk for hunger. All directly certified students get free school breakfast and lunch. Students who have access to better nutrition tend to perform better academically. Efficient direct certification can allow schools to feed more kids healthy food, ease the burden on low-income parents, and improve focus and learning for all students.
Direct certification is also an efficient process for families and the school meals system. When a student is directly certified, schools no longer have to collect meal applications from parents. This saves parents and school administrators time and allows for a uniform and efficient method for eligibility determinations. Direct certification makes school meals processes less burdensome for schools, parents, and students, and it also helps capture eligible students who may have been “missed” or unidentified under the meal application system.
Districts that have improved their direct certification rates have been able to spend less effort on collecting applications while increasing their school food revenue. They can use the added revenue to pay staff, buy equipment, or improve food quality.
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