March 9, 2010)—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced approximately $1.9 million in grants to five State agencies to increase enrollment in school meal programs through direct certification and verification processes. Direct certification allows States and local educational agencies to automatically certify children enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program (TANF) for free school meals without the need for household applications. Medicaid records also can be matched to simplify verification of eligibility for school meals programs.
"Direct certification and verification are critical tools in ensuring that every eligible child is enrolled in a school meal program and these grants enable the school food authorities to maximize the number of eligible students participating in school nutrition programs," said Secretary Vilsack. "USDA is actively pursuing opportunities to reduce hunger, promote program access, and improve the overall health and nutrition of children and these grants will help us reach those goals. We look forward to building on our successes with the upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization and we will work with States to expand the use and effectiveness of processes such as this."
In recent weeks, the Obama Administration has detailed ways it is seeking to improve the quality of the School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, increase the number of kids participating in these programs, and ensure schools have the resources they need to make program changes, including training for school food service workers, upgraded kitchen equipment, and additional funding for meal reimbursements for schools that are enhancing nutrition and quality. President Obama has proposed a $10 billion investment over the next 10 years to help meet these objectives, and to allow additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products to be served in our school cafeterias and an additional one million students to be served the healthy diets in school.
Authorized by public law 108-265, the grants being announced today help State agencies implement solutions to expedite the certification process for students eligible to receive free and reduced price meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. States can use grant funds to identify eligible students by matching school records and federal assistance program data.
"These grants are intended to improve access, increase accuracy, and reduce paperwork in school nutrition programs by simplifying the certification and verification process," said USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. "The funding is an important opportunity to make access to school meals as easy as possible for children in need throughout the country."
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees 15 nutrition assistance programs that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. The programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs provide nutritionally balanced, free and low-cost meals to 31 million and 11 million children, respectively, each school day. SNAP puts healthy food in reach for over 38 million Americans each month, half of whom are children.
Earlier this month, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. The campaign has four primary tenets: helping parents make healthy food choices, serving healthier food in schools; improving access to healthy, affordable food; and increasing physical activity. The Administration has introduced its plans to improve school meals, introduced a financing initiative to reduce food deserts, implemented new research tools that detail local food environments and health outcomes, including grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence, and announced a broad range of public/private commitments to solve America's childhood obesity epidemic. Learn more by visiting www.LetsMove.gov.
The five states receiving the FY 2009 Direct Certification & Verification grants are:
- Massachusetts - $583,200 to leverage their current technology and develop online applications to query TANF, SNAP and Medicaid participant databases so that they can expand their current direct certification and verification process and improve participation rates.
- Nebraska - $200,000 to create a database that will interface with state record systems and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services database to match children enrolled in SNAP and TANF programs.
- Pennsylvania - $630,132 to leverage state Geographic Information Software, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program information for data matching and streamlining enrollment verification processes.
- Rhode Island - $334,298 to enhance their existing software to validate and synchronize the school meal eligibility data.
- Texas - $177,433 to expand their existing direct verification system to provide matching capability with TANF, SNAP, Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).