Evaluation of Direct Certification With Medicaid for Free and Reduced-Price Meals Demonstration Projects Expansion
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to conduct a demonstration to add Medicaid to the list of programs used to directly certify students for free school meals. Using Medicaid data presented the opportunity to enroll additional students in free school meals and potentially reduce burden on school food authority staff by reducing the number of paper applications received and the number of applications requiring verification. However, because Medicaid, unlike the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, does not confer categorical eligibility for school meals, state agencies were required to develop a process to match student records to Medicaid data to determine eligibility. Evaluations of the demonstration projects, conducted in school year (SY) 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 found a modest increase in the percentage of students receiving free school meals.
FNS then expanded the demonstrations to allow State agencies to directly certify students for free and reduced-price meals using Medicaid data. However, evaluations of the expanded demonstration project, referred to as DCM-F/RP, could not assess the causal impact of the demonstrations (e.g., the effect of using Medicaid data to directly certify students for free or reduced-price school meals) on certification, participation, and federal reimbursements. Instead, the evaluation looked at broad, state-level changes in these outcomes. Lack of causal data, however, may hamper the ability of policymakers to effectively assess the demonstration projects and make decisions about their future.
Recently, FNS selected an additional eight states to participate in the DCM-F/RP demonstration beginning in SY 2022–2023. The expansion of the demonstration projects gives FNS an opportunity to design and conduct further evaluation efforts to determine the causal effects of the demonstration on participation, certification, community eligibility provision use, and costs.
As a first step for this project, Insight is developing a study plan that will describe the data collection and analysis methods necessary to evaluate the latest cohort of demonstration states. This work will involve building relationships with state child nutrition agencies and Medicaid agencies and helping to engage their staff in the planning process to gain buy-in and ensure our proposed approach is grounded in practice.
Final study plan