Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's
Children in households that receive benefits through SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) or TAFDC (cash assistance) are categorically eligible for free school meals. Currently, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) match the names of students who:
DESE then provides the names of these students to their respective school districts approximately twice a year. Schools use this list to directly certify these students for free school meals, alleviating the need for these families to fill out a school meal application.
Direct certification simplifies the process of qualifying children for free meals. Since eligible families do not need to complete a school meal application and schools do not need to process applications for these students, direct certification saves everyone a tremendous amount of time.
Direct certification ensures that all children who are eligible for free meals— based on either their household’s participation in SNAP, TAFDC, or their foster status— are automatically signed up to receive them.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires an improvement to the direct certification process to ensure that more children are directly certified for free meals in a timely manner. States are expected to directly certify 80% of students that live in SNAP recipient households during the current school year. This threshold increases to 90% and 95%, respectively, for the following two school years.
To achieve this goal, the MA DESE is piloting a new method for direct certification in 39 communities throughout the state. Through this pilot, school nutrition directors will have the ability to match the names of students listed in the DTA’s Virtual Gateway, an internet portal containing the names of individuals receiving SNAP or TAFDC benefits, to their current student enrollment in real time. Unlike the existing process in which the matched data is only available to schools twice a year, the Virtual Gateway allows schools to routinely check for additional students whose households have begun receiving SNAP or TAFDC benefits during the school year. This system will be expanded for statewide use in the 2012-2013 school year.