SNP Direct Certification Process

Direct certification is the process under which Local Education Agencies (LEAs) certify children who are members of households receiving assistance under the assistance programs (SNAP, TANF, or FDPIR) as eligible for free benefits, without further application, based on information provided by the state or local agencies administering those programs. A child is documented as meeting the applicable definition, as defined in this section:

The direct certification (DC) lists for SNAP, TANF, and Foster are available for download from the Tennessee Meals, Accounting, and Claiming (TMAC) website and identifies children for (annual) free eligibility. The list can be downloaded for each county and state wide. LEAs are required to conduct direct certification three times per year: once at or around the start of the school year, and again at three and six months after the initial DC match. The department recommends downloading the lists monthly and utilizing the state-wide list (99) as needed and maintaining downloaded copies of DC lists as proof of eligibility.

  • Assistance Programs (Direct Certification list)
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
    • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Other Source Categorically Eligible Programs
    • homeless child is a child identified as lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act or residing in a homeless shelter.
    • runaway child is identified by the local educational liaison through a program under the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.
    • migrant child is identified by the local educational liaison through section 1309 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. 6399
    • foster child is a child whose care and placement is the responsibility of a state or local welfare agency or who is placed by a court with a caretaker household.
    • Head Start or Even Start child is enrolled in one of these federally funded programs.

Documentation to establish children’s eligibility for free meals under direct certification for assistance programs and to substantiate claims for reimbursement must include:

  • Name of child or any household member currently certified to receive benefits
  • A statement certifying that each child is a member of a household where someone receives assistance program benefits
  • At least one piece of identifying information that will match the name of child identified by assistance programs with the name of the child attending school. Examples:
    • Child’s birth date
    • Address
    • Parents’ names
    • Child’s Social Security number, if available
    • Gender
  • Date
  • Name/signature of an official of the assistance program

Homeless and Runaway

  • Child’s name or a list of names of participating children
  • Effective date(s)
  • Signature of the local education liaison or the director of the homeless shelter


  • Dated list with each child’s name
  • Signature of the local migrant director, coordinator or local education liaison


  • Electronic/computer match (list found on TMAC); or
  • Local or state agency document confirming the child’s status; or
  • Court document confirming the child’s status

Head Start/Even Start

  • Statement of enrollment in Head Start or Even Start; or
  • List of children participating in Head Start or Even Start; and
  • For Even Start, confirmation that the child has not yet entered kindergarten

Eligibility for free meals is extended to all children in a household if one member has been directly certified under the SNAP or TANF assistance programs. These children are also considered to be directly certified. Eligibility is NOT extended for other categorically eligible children.

The LEA has flexibility in determining the effective date for students who are directly certified (DC) to receive free meals or free milk in the NSLP, SBP, and SMP. The LEA may consider the effective date of eligibility to be the date the household or appropriate state or local agency submitted the list or other form of documentation to the LEA or the date the school official approves the documentation. The LEA cannot implement both determination methods.

  • For automated data matching files (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/TANF, and Foster) the LEA may consider the effective date of eligibility to be the date listed in the downloaded file or the date the school official processes the DC file.
  • For lists or other forms of documentation from the appropriate state or local agency, the LEA may consider the effective date of eligibility to be the date the information is received or the date the information is processed.

The LEA must refund any money paid by or on behalf of the student for reimbursable meals during the period from the free meal eligibility effective date through the date the direct certification is actually implemented at the LEA, including forgiving accrued debt, for any meals or milk adjusted to free due to the change in effective date. The LEA can only claim those meals or milk at the free reimbursement rate if the student is given a refund or the debt is discharged. If the LEA elects to exercise the flexibility for determining the eligibility effective date for direct certified students, the LEA must do so for all direct certification methods including automated data matching, lists, or other forms of documentation. Each method is described in detail in SP 51-2014.

All direct certification households must be notified of free eligibility. The notification must include the following information:

  • The child is eligible for free meal benefits
  • No further application is necessary
  • If applicable, an explanation of extended eligibility and how to notify the LEA of any additional children in the household
  • Directions for notifying the LEA if the benefits are not wanted

Eligibility is for the current school year and up to 30 operating days into the next school year.