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USDA reports the impacts of using Medicaid data to certify students for free lunch

States and districts experienced mixed results.

The USDA analyzed the efficacy of using Medicaid data to certify students for free or reduced-price lunch, a provision included in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Participating states and districts reported conflicting data on changes in the percentage of students certified, number of meals served, federal reimbursements and certification costs.

The method is used as an alternative to household applications and data matching with other public benefit programs to streamline the certification of more low-income students. The program was first piloted statewide in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and in select districts in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, between 2012 and 2013.

In New York City, direct certification with Medicaid not only increased the percentage of students who were directly certified by 6.9%, but also increased the number of students who were certified for free or reduced-price lunch in general, according to the report. In Florida, however, the direct certification method did not make a significant difference in either of those measures.

States did not see a bump in overall meal participation as a result of the technique. However, Massachusetts and New York saw greater lunch participation, and Florida and New York had more kids taking advantage of free breakfast.

Financially, the Medicaid data approach did not save or cost districts any more money. However, some states and districts felt a positive impact on their reimbursement rate, especially at breakfast. Florida saw an extra 4 cents per breakfast, and New York City earned an additional 6 cents.

Altogether, the program’s major costs are to get the systems off the ground. For instance, Massachusetts shelled out $45,000 to revise its data system to accommodate direct certification with Medicaid. However, average monthly costs to maintain the system were less than $1,600 in each state.

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