USDA Announces Steps to Streamline Administration and Enhance Program Integrity in the National School Lunch Program
Washington, DC, March 7, 2012 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced new steps to enhance the delivery of USDA services while creating greater efficiencies to make the most of taxpayer dollars. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service is collaborating with six states on new demonstration projects to connect eligible low-income children with free school meals automatically based on information received from Medicaid. The new process will allow for administrative efficiencies, reduce improper payments and streamline efforts to provide access to critical nutrition for kids across the nation.
"These demonstration projects are just the latest example of USDA's ongoing efforts to modernize our services and improve the lives of kids and their families," said Vilsack. "By relying upon existing data, we streamline operations, reduce payment errors and improve the efficiency of operations at the federal and local level. At the same time we are ensuring that we deliver healthy meals to more eligible kids so that they have access to the nutrition they need to learn and excel."
Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania will begin their respective projects on July 1 for school year 2012-2013. Kentucky and Pennsylvania plan to conduct statewide projects while the others will do so in select locations.
USDA recognizes its fundamental responsibility to promote effective program management and reduce and prevent improper payments. The department, in coordination with states and program operators in over 100,000 schools, is pursuing alternative business processes – such as direct certification for school meals based on participation in other means-tested programs – that can prevent these kinds of errors without compromising access for those truly in need.
Undersecretary Kevin Concannon underscored the importance of the projects. "Direct certification is a trifecta for schools, parents and children. Schools and parents benefit from reduced paperwork, and children in need get better access to healthy school meals," he said.
The passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 marks the first time that states have been allowed to test this new process, called direct certification, with Medicaid information. USDA selected the demonstration states through a competitive application process. Under the legislation, the areas selected to participate will be expanded in future years, which will allow additional states to participate.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will conduct a formal study to evaluate the effectiveness of the projects. The study – with the results published in reports to Congress in 2014 and 2015 – will estimate the following impacts:
- The extent to which direct certification for each demonstration category reaches children who are eligible for free school meals but are not certified to receive them;
- The extent to which the projects directly certify eligible children who are enrolled for free school meals based on a household application; and
- The effect direct certification with the Medicaid program has on federal and state costs, and on participation in the school lunch and breakfast programs.
The demonstration projects are just one of the major components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, now implemented or under development, that will work together to reform school nutrition. In addition to the updated meal standards, unprecedented improvements to come include:
- The ability to take nutrition standards beyond the lunch line for the first time ever, foods and beverages sold in vending machines and other venues on school campuses will also contribute to a healthy diet;
- Increased funding for schools – an additional 6 cents a meal is the first real increase in 30 years – tied to strong performance in serving improved meals;
- Common-sense pricing standards for schools to ensure that revenues from non-Federal sources keep pace with the Federal commitment to healthy school meals and properly align with costs; and
- Training and technical assistance to help schools achieve and monitor compliance.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, in addition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and National School Lunch Program, also include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Summer Food Service Program. Taken together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net.