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Direct Certification Improvement Grants FY 2014

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service invites state agencies that administer the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) to apply for Direct Certification Improvement Grants to fund the costs of improving their direct certification rates with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other assistance programs as allowed under Federal statute and regulations.

A. Background and Authority - The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, PL 108-265, required all local educational agencies (LEAs) to establish, by school year (SY) 2008-2009, a system to directly certify children as eligible for free school meals when they are members of households that receive SNAP benefits. Under direct certification, children are approved for school meal benefits automatically without an application from the child’s household. Direct certification normally is accomplished through data matching between school enrollment records and public assistance program eligibility records. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill, PL 110-246) required FNS to assess the effectiveness of state and local efforts to directly certify children for free school meals when they are members of households receiving SNAP, and to provide annual reports to Congress indicating state progress in this area. Each year since 2008, FNS has computed direct certification rates for each state using estimates of the number of school-age SNAP participants (between ages 5 and 17) and the number of children from SNAP households directly certified as eligible for free school meals. These rates have been published in the annual Report to Congress: Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program: State Implementation Progress. The national average direct certification rate for children in SNAP households for SY 2011-2012 was calculated as 86 percent, an increase of 9 percentage points from the 77 percent reported for the previous school year.

The Reports to Congress for 2008 through 2012 (note: next report will be published in the fall of 2013) are available at:

B. Purpose of Grant Funding - The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 (PL 111-296) amended the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA) to add provisions intended to encourage States to improve program access through direct certification, including:

1. Requiring states to reach percentage benchmarks for direct certification rates for children in households receiving assistance under SNAP according to the following timelines: 80 percent for SY 2011-2012; 90 percent for SY 2012-2013; and 95 percent for SY 2013-2014 and each school year thereafter.

2. Requiring states that fall below the benchmark for the previous school year to develop and implement continuous improvement plans (CIPs) to describe: 1) specific measures that the state will use to identify more children who are eligible for direct certification, including improvements or modifications to technology, information systems, or databases; 2) a timeline for the state to implement those measures; and

3) goals for the state to improve direct certification results. The purpose of the Direct Certification Improvement Grants described in this RFA is to fund state agency activities in planning and implementing direct certification improvement projects that will help them reach and maintain the direct certification rate benchmarks mandated by the HHFKA. Funds may be used for:

1. Making technology improvements;

2. Providing technical assistance to LEAs; or

3. Implementing new or revised state or LEA direct certification systems. In addition, the grants are intended to fund improvements in direct certification with other public programs where there is statutory authority for direct certification, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), foster care, migrants, homeless, etc. Ultimately, FNS intends for the grants to assist states in improving access, increasing accuracy, and reducing paperwork in the NSLP and SBP by simplifying the certification process for free school meals.


The FY 2013-2014 Direct Certification Improvement Grant award process involves two types of awards. State agencies may apply for only one grant award under this RFA.

1. Tier 1: Limited-scope planning and implementation projects
2. Tier 2: Full-scope implementation projects - up to $1,000,000.

Direct Certification Grant Summaries

Page updated: January 11, 2024