STATE NEWS (MT) – OPI to use Medicaid data for school meal programs

MM Curator summary

The article below has been highlighted and summarized by our research team. It is provided here for member convenience as part of our Curator service.


[MM Curator Summary]: MT will start robo-enrolling Medicaid covered kids in fee/reduced lunch programs.


Clipped from:


Montana’s Office of Public Instruction will next week begin using state Medicaid data to automatically certify public school students for free or reduced-price meals — part of an ongoing pilot program the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tested in 27 other states since 2012.

Federal assistance in school lunchrooms has been a mainstay of the USDA’s National School Food Program for more than half a century, offering tens of millions of students reduced- or no-cost meals on the basis of family income. Typically, Montana parents submit an application for enrollment detailing their qualifications, and OPI already uses several metrics to determine eligibility, including homelessness and participation in two other federal food assistance programs, SNAP and TANF. During the past school year, nearly 40% of Montana students qualified for free or reduced-price meals.

In a statement this month, state Superintendent Elsie Arntzen said adding data about a family’s income eligibility for Medicaid to the list of determining factors would help “streamline” the process. Arntzen clarified that OPI will use information about income from the Department of Public Health and Human Services’ database, rather than a family’s enrollment status in Medicaid, to make the new determinations. Montana’s participation in the pilot program — one of 14 states doing so this year — runs through the 2023-24 school year. 

As Montana Free Press reported last week, the Medicaid status of millions of people nationwide is in extreme flux after the federal government lifted a three-year pandemic freeze on states disenrolling individuals from the public insurance rolls who were no longer eligible. More than one million Medicaid enrollees nationwide reportedly lost coverage in the weeks following the April decision. In Montana, the first round of reevaluations two months ago resulted in a loss of coverage for more than 15,000 people, the vast majority of whom were removed from the program because they failed to return required paperwork. DPHHS expects to conclude its redetermination process in January.



Almost half of Medicaid recipients reviewed in April lost coverage

Nearly half of Montanans whose Medicaid eligibility was reviewed in April lost coverage, according to new information published Tuesday by the state health department. The summary is the first publicly available glimpse into how Montana is fairing during the national ‘Medicaid unwinding’ — the mass reevaluation process for millions of people since the federal emergency response to the pandemic froze public insurance rolls in place three years ago.

by Mara Silvers 06.20.202306.23.2023

Asked how the ongoing review of Medicaid eligibility in Montana might affect the state’s school pilot plan, both OPI and DPHHS indicated they anticipate no impact. DPHHS spokesperson Jon Ebelt said via email that once a student is certified for free or reduced-price meals, their status will not change during the school year “regardless of a change of circumstance for the family or Medicaid enrollment status.” OPI spokesperson Brian O’Leary reiterated that assurance, adding that the ongoing Medicaid redeterminations are “not impacting” OPI’s participation in the pilot.

“DPHHS has informed the OPI that eligibility for Medicaid will be changing,” O’Leary wrote in an email. “The OPI and DPHHS are proceeding with the original plan to use Medicaid as a source for direct certification.”

O’Leary added that OPI will begin checking Medicaid data and certifying eligible families on July 1. Once enrolled, he said, students will not have their free or reduced-price meal status revoked, meaning if they’re certified on July 1 but their Medicaid coverage changes July 2, their meal status will not change. O’Leary noted that families can still submit paper applications for free or reduced-price enrollment.

Tammy Wham, incoming president-elect of the Montana School Nutrition Association, told MTFP Tuesday that her organization doesn’t yet have enough information to be sure how the ongoing Medicaid review might affect the meal certification pilot.

According to O’Leary, OPI doesn’t directly deal with family notifications of school meal eligibility. That task, he said, falls to local school districts. OPI does maintain a collection of meal eligibility forms on its website, as well as an online application portal for families in certain school districts.

O’Leary further stated that, based on past pilot data from other states, OPI anticipates the program will result in an increase in Montana students eligible for school food assistance. Jan Rhodes, a regional public affairs officer for the USDA, said more than one million students across 15 pilot states were certified for free meals using Medicaid data in 2017-18, with an additional 258,893 certified for reduced-priced meals. In 2019-20 — the last school year with available data — the USDA determined more than 1.2 million students were certified for free meals across three states, and another 240,000 were certified for reduced-price meals.

Last fall marked the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that families were required to apply for free or reduced-price meals in Montana. During the two school years prior, all students received school meals at no cost regardless of family income as part of the federal government’s response to the global crisis.