Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina to Participate in School Meals Demonstration Project Enabling Direct Certification Through Medicaid

Project Will Provide Opportunity for More Children to Receive Free or Reduced-Price School Meals

ATLANTA, GA (December 15, 2021) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service’s Southeast Region today announced that Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina are three of eight states that have been selected to participate in the expansion of a demonstration project to evaluate the impact of using Medicaid eligibility data to directly certify students for free and reduced-price school meals. The newest round of this demonstration creates an important opportunity to further test the impact of Medicaid Direct Certification, which was first initiated through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Five additional states were also selected to participate in this round of the project: Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, and Minnesota.

The direct certification process makes it easier for children from low-income households to receive free and reduced-price school meals. Historically, most students who receive free or reduced-price school meals have been certified based on information they submit in an application. Families can also be deemed eligible because they participate in one of a few benefit programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Adding Medicaid to the list of benefit programs that can ‘directly certify’ a student to receive free or reduced-price meals is a win-win for students, families, and school officials. This means less paperwork for families and fewer school meal applications for school districts to process and verify.

“Direct certification works to decrease errors in school meal program administration and ensures children in need aren’t mistakenly left behind,” said USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, Southeast Region Administrator Willie C. Taylor. “By eliminating applications, direct certification not only reduces burden on families and schools, but also is a key error-reduction strategy for the school meals programs in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.”

School meal administrators share that they are excited about participating in the Medicaid Direct Certification Demonstration Project.

“The Alabama Child Nutrition Program is very excited to be able to provide approximately 34,000 additional students’ parents the peace of mind of knowing that their child will be provided a well-balanced nutritional meal during the school day without the need of completing a meal application.  This opportunity affords the state of Alabama the ability to directly certify almost 325,000 students (44%) out of 740,000 enrolled statewide for free meals,” said Child Nutrition Programs Director, Alabama State Department of Education, Angelice Lowe.

“The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction welcomes the expansion of the Direct Certification pilot,” said School Nutrition Director, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Dr. Lynn Harvey.  “Nutritious meals are an integral part of each instructional day in our public schools. The pilot will help the department streamline eligibility for over 100,000 students and reduce the paperwork burden for families by eliminating the need for a household application.”

“South Carolina is very excited to be participating the Medicaid Expansion Demonstration Project. We know this project will help us identify more students in need of free or reduced meals throughout South Carolina without having to wait on a meal application to be completed. We also hope this project will help us expand CEP to more schools within the state,” said Education Associate, South Carolina Department of Education Office of Health and Nutrition, Ellen Mason.

Since school year 2012-2013, USDA has authorized demonstration projects allowing states to test direct certification with Medicaid. With the addition of eight states this week, 27 states are now participating in these projects, representing approximately 75% of students nationwide. An evaluation by USDA found that these projects allowed more than one million students to be certified for free meals and nearly 260,000 students for reduced-price meals in school year 2017-2018.

The Biden Administration is committed to expanding direct certification opportunities and certifying more eligible children for free and reduced-price meals without an application. For more information, visit the FNS webpage on Direct Certification.

 USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) leverages its 15 nutrition assistance programs to ensure that children, low-income individuals, and families have opportunities for a better future through equitable access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food, while building a more resilient food system. Under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vilsack, FNS is fighting to end food and nutrition insecurity for all through programs such as SNAP, school meals, and WIC. FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To learn more, visit

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