Direct Certification Plan for Free and Reduced Lunches

In September, the Minnesota Department of Education applied to get permission to directly certify students for free meals if they are Medicaid-eligible. This permission was granted to Minnesota and seven other states in December. Other states that have implemented this direct certification capture 10-15% more students on top of what they capture for SNAP, MFIP, and foster care.   

In order to be eligible to be directly certified to receive reduced meals, a student must receive Medicaid or live in a house with another child who receives Medicaid.  In addition to this qualification, they must be below the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) income standards applicable to a family size. The eligibility standard is currently at least 185% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL) for reduced meals and 130% of FPL for free meal eligibility.  If a household is directly certified for reduced price meals, they must be notified of the income level used for free meals and offered the opportunity to apply if they think their income is within the standard for free meals.  To be clear, a student may qualify for Medicaid services, but not qualify for reduced meals because of family income.  If a student qualifies for reduced meals the family will need to check to see if they qualify for free meals. However, Minnesota already covers the cost difference for reduced price meals, so those students will eat for free either way.  

Students who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP), or are in Foster Care are already directly certified.  Direct certification of students who are Medicaid-eligible is in addition to the direct certification of these other programs. Students may be eligible for multiple programs, but their qualification for Free and Reduced goes in the priority order of SNAP, MFIP, foster care, Medicaid.  SNAP, MFIP, and other direct certification matches always supersede Medicaid matches for reporting purposes.   

The direct certification will be automatically integrated into the district’s student information system (SIS) so it can be uploaded into the MARSS system.  This is similar to what is done currently with SNAP, MFIP, and foster care students.  MDE will be notifying SIS vendors of this new change and will provide training and technical assistance to ensure a smooth transition.  

MREA specifically inquired about if Title dollars, Federal Grants, Teacher Loan Forgiveness, School readiness dollars, Special Education initial revenue, or other funding streams tied to Free and Reduced would be affected by this change.  We were told they should not be affected as these students are being classified as Free and Reduced students.     

While MREA is grateful for how this process will help recover compensatory revenue, it is not the total solution we were looking for, which was to get rid of the paperwork parents need to fill out in order for districts to receive the compensatory revenue stream.  At this time there is no database that districts can have access to which will show students who are not Medicaid eligible but qualify for Free and Reduced. Therefore, districts will most likely need to continue to have families fill out Free and Reduced forms. 

MDE believes that Direct Certification of Medicaid students will be in place for the fall of 2022.  View the MDE Powerpoint on Direct Certification.  

This is just one of the initiatives MREA will continue to advocate for to help relieve the compensatory funding issues our districts are facing.  The loss of funding last year and the reliance on families filling out forms are issues we are trying to find solutions to.