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Medicaid now certifies kids for free lunch in South Carolina and 7 other states

Students line-up for food at Fisher Middle School in Greenville.
Russ McKinney
SC Public Radio
FILE - Students line-up for food at Fisher Middle School in Greenville.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has added eight states to the 19 where students receiving Medicaid coverage will be automatically added to the program offering free or reduced-price school lunches.

Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Carolina, and South Carolina are now part of a demonstration program started in fall 2012, a news release said Tuesday.

"Providing reliable access to nutritious meals has never been more important as Louisiana continues to recover from the effects of recent hurricanes, floods and the pandemic," said John Dupre, state director of child nutrition programs for the Louisiana Department of Education.

USDA said Tuesday's action expands demonstration projects that have certified more than 1 million students for free means and nearly 260,000 for reduced-price meals since the 2012-2013 school year.

"Direct certification works to decrease errors in school meal program administration and ensures children in need aren't mistakenly left behind," said USDA Food and Nutrition Service southwest regional administrator Bill Ludwig.

The 27 states now involved represent about 75% of students nationwide, the agency said.

Direct certification makes it easier for children from low-income households to receive free and reduced-price school meals.

Historically, most students who receive such meals have applied for the program. Families participating in a few other programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also get the free or lower-cost meals.

"Adding Medicaid to the list of benefit programs that can 'directly certify' a student to receive free or reduced-price meals is a win-win for students, families, and school officials. This means less paperwork for families and fewer school meal applications for school districts to process and verify," the news release said.