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California Department of Education
News Release
Release: #16-10
January 28, 1016
Contact: Communications
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Reports Large Increase in Students Automatically Eligible for Free School Meals

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today reported a 32 percent increase in the number of students automatically approved to receive free meals in California schools as a result of collaborative efforts among three state agencies, two legislators and food policy advocates.

In December 2015, the last month complete data are available, the 32 percent increase meant that 326,029 additional students were automatically approved for free school meals in California's school nutrition programs. That brings the total number of automatically eligible students in the state to 1.3 million.

Students are enrolled in the free meals program each month through a federally mandated "direct certification" process that grants automatic eligibility to students in families already participating in the CalFresh and California Work Opportunity or Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) benefit programs without the families having to complete any additional meal applications. Direct certification relieves school districts and low-income families from another administrative burden and helps ensure the most vulnerable children have access to nutritious meals during the school day.

The increase in eligible students directly certified results from modifications to the process of matching federal participation data in CalFresh and CalWORKs with state data and student-level data. The modifications began in July.

"This collaboration is a great example of how agencies working together can directly help students. Now an additional 300,000-plus students will be eligible for nutritious meals that will maintain their health and help prepare them to learn and succeed in school, "Torlakson said. "I applaud the California Departments of Education, Health Care Services and Social Services and commend their efforts in helping more of our students."

The three counties showing the greatest percentage of student eligibility for free meals using direct certification since the start of the 2015-16 school year are Fresno County (37 percent), Tulare County (36 percent), and Merced County (35 percent).

"This partnership is leveraging technology effectively to help more families connect with school meals and CalFresh, thereby improving child nutrition and well-being," said Will Lightbourne, Director of the California Department of Social Services.

"When state benefit programs work together, they can do a better job of reaching more Californians and getting them the help they need," said Department of Health Care Services Director Jennifer Kent. "We look forward to our continuing work with the California Departments of Education and Social Services on this new initiative to make sure kids get the nutrition they need to learn and stay healthy."

Two state lawmakers, Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), along with the non-profit California Food Policy Advocates were instrumental in pursuing efforts to assist eligible families not participating in the state's free school meals programs.

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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction
Communications Division, Room 5602, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100

Last Reviewed: Monday, August 31, 2020
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