As students and families prepare to head back to school in the fall, Governor Tim Walz announced a new effort across state agencies to make school meals available to approximately 90,000 additional students. 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. 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,” said Governor Tim Walz. “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 “directly certified” for free meals based on previous eligibility from other programs. This expansion of direct certification will also increase eligibility and reduce costs for schools to participate in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows eligible schools to provide meals at no cost to all students. An important issue is that the federal waivers that have provided meals at no cost to all students during the pandemic are not available to states next school year.

“As a child who relied on free and reduced-price lunch and a lifelong advocate for children and families, I know how much access to meals at school means to families across Minnesota,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “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, Executive Director of the Children’s Cabinet. 

Minnesota was one of 8 states selected for the USDA pilot program to implement in the 2022-23 school year. DHS submitted data to MDE that identified 491,349 children enrolled in Medicaid who met the income threshold and requirements for direct certification for FRP meals. Of these children enrolled in Medicaid:

  • 321,782 were in student records, and, of those, 202,041 students are estimated to be newly directly certified through Medicaid, meaning they were not already directly certified through other DHS programs. 
  • Of the 202,041 students, 149,063 were eligible for free school meals, and 52,978 were eligible for reduced-price (FRP) school meals. In Minnesota, the state pays the cost of reduced-price meals for eligible students, meaning all students directly certified will receive school meals at no cost to them.
  • Of the students eligible to be newly directly certified by Medicaid, around 90,000 are estimated to not currently be enrolled in FRP meals. 

This pilot continues the commitment the Walz-Flanagan administration has made to ensure seamless access to food for children during the pandemic through Pandemic EBT. That program has provided over $500 million to an estimated half a million students and young children across the state by using administrative data from the departments of Education and Human Services. Minnesota is one of 33 states that have been able to maintain a Pandemic EBT program into summer 2022.  

These estimates are based on current participation, and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be responsible for finalizing the matches and the data at the local level. MDE is providing LEAs with training and technical assistance for implementation. For more information, visit USDA Resource on Direct Certification and Medicaid or contact the Children’s Cabinet at