The USDA Food and Nutrition Service has announced a new pilot program for the upcoming school year that hopes to give more children access to the National School Lunch Program.
Under the program, states will use Medicaid data to find qualifying students and directly enroll them for both free and reduced-price meal programs. Under the current system, parents have to go through a cumbersome application process to access the programs, and the paperwork diminishes accessibility.
“Many children who are eligible for free and reduced-lunch meals aren't enrolled in the program—this is going to help ensure that they receive the benefits, too,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told The Washington Post.
The pilot program will test three key things: whether the program has an impact on including families who are currently not signed up for free or reduced-price lunch; whether it’ll also work for families that are signed up already; and whether it will make a dent in the federal costs of providing school lunches and breakfasts. States must apply and be accepted to the pilot program in order to participate. The White House says the USDA hopes five states will participate in the coming school year, and that the agency is looking to expand to 20 states over the next three school years.