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Direct Certification Requirements

Nutrition Services Division Management Bulletin
Purpose: Policy, Action Required, Beneficial Information
To: Public School Districts, County Offices of Education, Charter Schools, Private Schools, Residential Child Care Institutions with Day Schools Number: USDA-SNP-09-2012
Attention: Food Service Directors, Business Officials, Data Coordinators Date: August 2012
Subject: Direct Certification Requirements: (1) Frequency of Data Matching and (2) Eliminating the Letter Method
Reference: U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Policy Memos SP 31-2011 and SP 13-2011; Management Bulletins NSD-SNP-19-2010 and NSD-SNP-08-2012

This Management Bulletin (MB) reminds School Food Authorities (SFA) [Local Educational Agencies (LEA) participating in federal meal programs] that implementing a Direct Certification (DC) process is mandatory, and notifies SFAs about U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidance regarding improving the DC process, by outlining two requirements for SFAs: (1) the frequency of DC data matching and (2) elimination of the DC “letter method” to qualify eligible students and households for free meals. 

Action Required: (1) Frequency of Matches

Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations; Section 245.6(b)(3) requires SFAs to conduct DC matching activities at least three times per school year, including but not limited to, the following:

  • At or around the beginning of the school year
  • Three months after the initial effort
  • Six months after the initial effort

DC can occur through two methods:

  1. Public schools, county offices of education (COE), and charter schools can contact local county welfare office(s) to obtain a list of students who are eligible for CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) or California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) benefits.
  2. SFAs can download DC data from the statewide California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) after it has matched California Department of Education (CDE) student enrollment data to CalFresh and CalWORKs benefit data from the California Department of Social Services.
Both methods automatically qualify CalFresh and CalWORKs eligible students and additional school-aged children in the same household for free school meals, and both methods are acceptable to meet the federal DC requirement.

Please note that SFAs can meet this “three times per school year” matching requirement by checking DC data from the CALPADS for at least two of the three occurrences, because the CALPADS refreshes the DC data monthly.

Action Required: (2) Eliminating the Letter Method

SFAs need to directly certify children receiving CalFresh or CalWORKs benefits without relying solely on “the letter method.” The letter method is a process where a household provides an SFA with a letter from a local Welfare Office certifying the household’s CalFresh or CalWORKs eligibility to obtain a student’s free meal benefits.

LEAs must ensure they have a method in place to directly exchange eligibility information from CalFresh or CalWORKs officials or from the CALPADS, and not require households to provide them with a letter from a welfare agency certifying the household’s CalFresh/CalWORKs benefits.

Details Regarding the Methods of Direct Certification

State Level Data Matching

The CDE has established a statewide DC matching process that pairs student level data stored in the CALPADS against statewide CalFresh and CalWORKs benefit recipient data stored in the CDSS’ data system. The CALPADS provides the DC match results to all public schools, COEs, and charter schools through its electronic notification process.

SFAs may find instructions on how to implement DC using the CALPADS on the CDE Direct Certification Web page at  

Local Level Data Matching

Private schools, public school districts, charter schools, and COEs may establish a local agreement with the county Department of Social or Welfare Services to match students against those children receiving CalFresh/CalWORKs benefits.  

To verify CalFresh participation, local welfare or social service office contacts can be obtained on the CDE CalFresh County Contacts for DC Web page at

If you have any questions about using the CALPADS, please contact the CALPADS service desk by e-mail at or visit the CDE CALPADS Service Request Form CDE Web page at

If you have any questions regarding this MB or DC policy requirements, please contact Katie Tully, School Nutrition Programs Specialist, by phone at 916-445-4309 or by e-mail at

Questions:   Nutrition Services Division | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 16, 2017
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