Lincoln Highlights New Report Showing More Needy Children Automatically Receive School Meal Benefits

Increased Access to School Meals Results from Senate Agriculture Committee Action
80,000 Arkansas students now automatically receive free meals

Washington – U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today highlighted a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report that shows a significant increase in the number of school districts automatically enrolling low-income children in school meal programs.

“Ensuring that eligible children receive the healthy school meals to which they are entitled is a key component of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s efforts to end hunger and to promote child health,” said Chairman Lincoln. “The USDA report is strong evidence that direct certification is an effective way to increase school lunch participation for our students.  In Arkansas, more than 80,000 students are now automatically receiving free meals because of the direct certification process, which cuts through bureaucratic red tape.  As the Committee works to reauthorize the federal child nutrition programs set to expire next year, we will further explore additional means by which to expand and improve this successful tool, as well as other sensible ways to increase participation in child nutrition programs.”

The USDA report, Direct Certification in the National School Lunch Program: State Implementation Progress¸ found that 78 percent of local educational agencies (LEAs) are now using the tool known as direct certification to enroll 96 percent of all students in schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  These numbers are a considerable increase over prior years, with only 56 percent of LEAs participating in 2004-2005 to enroll 79 percent of children in NSLP-participating schools.

Direct certification is a process whereby children who are already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), are automatically enrolled in the National School Lunch Program.  This tool allows States and LEAs to share data in order to qualify students for school meal programs without an additional application process, effectively cutting through unnecessary red tape.

“Direct certification is not only helping provide children in Arkansas and across the country with nutritious meals, but it is also reducing the workload of our teachers and school administrators, who are now free to spend more of their time teaching rather than determining school meal eligibility,” said Lincoln.

In early October, Congress enacted a $150 million package of child nutrition program funding crafted by Chairman Lincoln and House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-GA).  This package included $25 million in additional funding to further improve direct certification.  The bulk of this money will be available to state agencies administering NSLP with the lowest rates of direct certification.