State expands free meals to 90,000 more students

ST. PAUL — As students and families prepare to head back to school in the fall, Gov. Tim Walz announced Monday that the state will provide school meals to about 90,000 additional students this coming school year.

More than 200,000 students on Medicaid will be automatically enrolled or re-enrolled to receive free meals at school. This new expansion of free meals for students is a result of the state applying and being accepted to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program this year.

“This is a huge win for Minnesota families and schools,” Walz said. “As a former classroom teacher of 20 years, I know that accessibility of school meals is top of mind for thousands of families and students preparing for school in the fall. This project means fewer children will go hungry at school next year, and we know that’s the number one way we can help students succeed.”

Direct certification is a process by which children already enrolled in certain state programs may also be automatically eligibile for free meals based on eligibility in other programs. This expansion of direct certification will increase eligibility and reduce costs for schools to participate in the federal Community Eligibility Provision, which allows eligible schools to provide meals at no costs to all students. This is crucial since federal waivers that have provided meals at no costs to all students during the pandemic are not available this coming school year.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said she herself was a child who relied on free and reduced-price lunch.

“I know how much access to meals at school means to families across Minnesota,” she said. “This is the kind of government innovation that will lift the burden on families and bring more resources to communities, especially our kids.”

The project is a result of cross-agency innovations and discussions through the Children’s Cabinet with Minnesota IT Services, Department of Human Services, and Minnesota Department of Education. To be eligible, students have to be currently enrolled in Medicaid and meet the USDA income guidelines.

“This project is an example of leadership coming together to center students and seek innovations and partnerships to make government work better for families and the systems that serve them,” said Erin Bailey, Children’s Cabinet executive director.

Minnesota was one of eight states selected for the USDA pilot program to implement in the 2022-23 school year. DHS submitted data to MDE identifying 491,349 children enrolled in Medicaid who met the income threshold and requirements for direct certification for FRP meals.


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