Federal law requires school districts to automatically enroll children for free school meals if their families receive SNAP benefits. This automatic enrollment, known as direct certification, is highly accurate and reduces paperwork for school districts and poor families.
* A new USDA study finds that states vary widely in the performance of their direct certification systems. Sixteen states miss more than two in five children who could be automatically enrolled for free school meals.
* Many children overlooked by direct certification fail to receive free school meals because their parents do not complete a paper application.
* States can take steps to improve direct certification, such as automatically connecting children who begin receiving SNAP benefits in the middle of the school year to free school meals.