More MS Students to Receive Free, Nutritious School Meals Through Automated Process

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More Mississippi school children will receive free, nutritious school meals through a new automated direct certification system at the Mississippi Department of Education (M.D.E.), and the state could receive up to $19 million in additional federal funds for school breakfasts and lunches and could provide up to 5.8 million school meals annually.

Direct certification is an automated process conducted by M.D.E.’s Office of Technology and Strategic Services and the Office of Child Nutrition to certify eligible children for free meals without the need for household applications. The system matches student enrollment lists against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (S.N.A.P.) records. The matching process requires no action by the children’s parents or guardians.

SNAP is the program formerly known as food stamps. In fiscal 2014, nearly 22% of Mississippians enrolled in S.N.A.P. with more than $938 million in benefits issued in the state.

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“Direct certification is an important process to ensure that students who are eligible for benefits receive nutrition through U.S.D.A. meal programs. It directly benefits some of Mississippi’s most vulnerable children,” said Scott Clements, director of child nutrition.

In the 2011-12 school year, Mississippi’s rate for direct certification was 77% and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s benchmark was 95%. The O.T.S.S. system program exceeds the 95% match rate. Students are eligible to receive benefits even it an application is not completed.

“Beyond the benefits to children, this will reduce paperwork and simplify the process for local schools while increasing accuracy,” said Dr. John Q. Porter, interim chief information officer.

The direct certification process also will improve Mississippi’s participation in the Community Eligibility Provision (C.E.P.), allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.