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Applications Now Open for States to Streamline Access to Free, Reduced Price School Meals

Did you know there’s a way for children in Medicaid households to be automatically eligible for free and reduced price school meals without their families completing another application? It’s called the Direct Certification with Medicaid Demonstration Project and USDA recently opened applications for more states to participate.

Currently, 38 states participate in the demonstration project, which represents 91% of the nation’s K-12 students. In school year 2019-20, these demonstration projects allowed states to directly certify more than 1.4 million students for free and reduced price meals based on Medicaid data.

New states will have the opportunity to start this project in school years 2024-25, 2025-26, or 2026-27. USDA will consider applications received through Nov. 30, 2025.

Automatic eligibility is a win-win for students, families, and school officials because it provides benefits such as:

  • Lower food costs for families,
  • Lower school meal debt,
  • Higher student participation in school breakfast and lunch programs, and
  • Less time and administrative burden for hardworking school nutrition staff.

Arizona, for example, began participating in the Direct Certification with Medicaid Demonstration Project this school year (2023-24) and is experiencing positive results from it. According to Tom Horne, the state’s superintendent of public instruction with the Department of Education, the pilot has already benefited thousands of additional Arizona students who now can receive breakfasts and lunches free of charge each school day, and their families no longer need to fill out an application.

Direct Certification with Medicaid will also give more kids access to USDA’s new Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program, also known as Summer EBT, which will launch in summer 2024. Households with students who are automatically eligible for free school meals will also be automatically eligible to receive $40 per summer month (per child) in grocery benefits if they live in states, territories, and Tribal Nations that participate in Summer EBT.

Children are also automatically eligible for free and reduced-price school meals – and Summer EBT benefits – if they live in households that participate in other income-based federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

More information about the Direct Certification for Medicaid Demonstration Project is available on the FNS website.

Page updated: November 29, 2023