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About 90,000 more Minnesota kids to get free meals this school year

The free meal expansion was made possible after Minnesota was accepted into a pilot program with the USDA.

MINNEAPOLIS — Tens of thousands of additional Minnesota school children will be eligible for free meals this upcoming year thanks to a new effort by state and federal agencies, Governor Tim Walz announced Monday.

Minnesota was one of eight states selected to be part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program, and following collaboration with the Children’s Cabinet with Minnesota IT Services, Department of Human Services and Minnesota Department of Education, about 90,000 more Minnesota children will be able to get free meals at school, according to a press release from Walz's office.

Walz said the expansion of free and reduced school lunches is a huge win for families and schools in the state.

"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,” Walz said in his announcement. “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.”

The USDA program expands direct certification, the "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." 

According to his announcement, the program "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 costs to all students."

This upcoming school year, more than 200,000 students on Medicaid will be either enrolled or re-enrolled in free meals at school, Walz said.

The USDA told the Minnesota Department of Education that 491,349 kids enrolled in Medicaid were eligible for free meals through the program. Of those, 321,782 were in student records and 202,041 of those children will be directly certified through Medicaid. Of those roughly 200,000 kids, about 90,000 weren't already enrolled for free or reduced-price meals.

“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,” Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan said in Walz's press release.

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