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Congressman Joaquin Castro

Representing the 20th District of Texas

CASTRO CALLS ON TEXAS AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER TO IMPROVE SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM'S EFFICIENCY

Feb 25, 2016
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congressmen Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Filemon Vela (TX-34) today sent a letter to Commissioner Sid Miller, urging the Texas Department of Agriculture to apply to participate in a new federal pilot program seeking to increase the number of children who receive free and reduced price meals by simplifying the process states use to certify qualified students. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the program, which allows states to use existing Medicaid data to certify automatically students for free and reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). 
 
“If we want our students to flourish academically, we must ensure they have access to a healthy, satisfying lunch,” said Rep. Castro. “Without that nutritious meal, kids can’t concentrate in the classroom or absorb the information they need to do well in school." 
 
The USDA currently mandates a program similar to this pilot: local education agencies are required to establish an electronic database to provide direct NSLP certification for children who reside in households that receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Currently, more than 3 million Texas children participate in the NSLP.
 
“Our state already has the necessary technological infrastructure to participate in this pilot program, simplify its processing of students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, and potentially reduce the number of kids who go through the school day hungry,” added Rep. Castro. “Texas does a notoriously poor job at educating and providing for its students. This is an opportunity for the state, and the Agriculture Commissioner in particular, to support our children and help ensure they receive the food they need to succeed in class.” 
 
The deadline by which states must submit their applications for the pilot program to the USDA is April 15, 2016. 
 
Text of the letter is included below. 
 
 
[BEGIN LETTER TEXT]
 
Sid Miller 
Commissioner 
Texas Department of Agriculture 
1700 N. Congress, 11th Floor 
Austin, Texas 78701
 
Dear Commissioner Miller: 
 
We urge the Texas Department of Agriculture to apply for a new pilot program that affects over three million children.  
 
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced that they will introduce a program that allows states to use existing Medicaid data to certify automatically students for free and reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  The purpose of this program is to simplify the certification and enrollment process by targeting an identifiable, high-needs population.  Under the current system, parents must submit a paper application each school year, which is a time consuming and often confusing process.  This pilot program will ease the certification process and enable schools to enroll qualifying students quickly.   
 
As you know, Texas already has an electronic certification infrastructure in place.  Federal law mandates that local educational agencies provide direct certification for free and reduced price lunches for those children who reside in households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.  Because this electronic certification process is familiar, expanding direct certification for all Medicaid users should be an easy task. 
 
When the USDA began testing this pilot in select states, Texas declined to participate.  Given Texas’ history of failing to provide for its school children adequately, we wanted to call your attention to this new opportunity to ensure that this trend does not continue.  We hope you agree that this pilot program is a commonsense initiative that will help feed millions of children.   
 
Sincerely,
  
Joaquin Castro 
Member of Congress 
 
Filemon Vela
Member of Congress

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