As COVID-19 continues to push families further into financial distress, making sure that families have access to all the benefits that they can is critical for the long-term viability of our communities. Pre-COVID-19 more than 37 million people, including more than 11 million children lived in a food-insecure household. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) more than 1 in 5 Black and Latinx adults with children reported in July that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) created the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. P-EBT provides nutrition assistance to families whose children have lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to COVID-19 related school closures. Families will receive money on a new or existing Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to help make up for these lost meals. For those families receiving SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) who already have an EBT card, the P-EBT would not impact their benefits and would be added to their existing card.
P-EBT provides households an EBT card with about $5.70 for each child, for each day that school is closed due to the pandemic. This adds up to $114 per child for every four weeks. Schools must close for at least five consecutive days for families to receive P-EBT. The amount that a family could receive depends upon the number of days their child’s school was closed in March, April, and May. Some states have updated their state plans with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are now including benefits for August and September.
States implemented the program in two ways: utilization of current free or reduced lunch information or require families to apply for benefits. Many states that opted to have families apply for the P-EBT are no longer accepting applications from families but Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, and Montana are still allowing families to apply. Many of the states that used meal data on hand to confirm eligibility are starting to send out P-EBT cards to addresses that are on file so that low-income families can receive the benefit quickly and without having to worry about completing an application.
In line with Economic Impact Payments, local leaders can do more to share the benefits of P-EBT, how to claim the benefit, and where to go if residents have any issues.
- P-EBT benefits are the additional stimulus that helps families keep food on the table and allows them to spend their additional monies on other family expenses.
- Additionally, accessing P-EBT does not impact the ability of a family from accessing food from student meal sites. Local leaders and community advocates can find meal sites operating within your community through the USDA’s Meals 4 Kids Site Finder.
Four ways that local leaders can help their residents access P-EBT now include:
- Help residents in your community understand that accessing P-EBT will not count toward public charge. P-EBT does not change a parent or child’s immigration status. P-EBT is for all children that are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
- Those leaders who are in a state with an open P-EBT application process should share information about the program through city channels like social media, tv access, and radio, how your residents can apply, and which organizations can help them with the application. For the states whose application periods have ended local leaders can share troubleshooting information provided by their state partners.
- Leaders in states who automatically issued P-EBT cards to families based upon school meals data can make sure that families know that the cards are on their way, where to go for issues related to receiving the EBT card, and other troubleshooting. More information on which state agencies to connect with can be found here.
- Remember, all leaders should put forward the message to families that these cards should be kept even after the benefit value has been used in case future funds are made available by Congress.
About the Author