Many of you have reached out with questions about Pandemic EBT (also known as P-EBT). These extra food stamps benefits are intended to help replace the free and reduced-price meals that low income families receive from schools.
Although the Pandemic EBT program sounds simple enough, it’s actually become quite complicated. Some people aren’t getting benefits they should, others don’t know if they qualify or not. It’s honestly a bit of a mess.
In this post, we’re going to recap five things you need to know about the Pandemic EBT program.
Pandemic EBT is available to families who would’ve received free or reduced price meals.
The Pandemic EBT program is not designed to help all students in a particular school. The program is specifically aimed at helping students who normally qualify for free or reduced price meals at school. Since many schools are closed, those meals are not available and families are struggling to afford the extra meals.
In order to be eligible for P-EBT funds, your child must meet two requirements:
- Your child qualifies for and would have received free or reduced-price meals.
- Your child cannot receive free or reduced-price meals because the school is closed or has been operating with reduced attendance/hours for at least 5 consecutive days in the current school year.
Children who are homeschooled do not qualify for P-EBT because they would not be eating free or reduced-price meals at school. Unfortunately, this includes children who previously attended school but have started homeschooling as a result of the pandemic.
In many areas, schools provide free summer meals for all children age 18 and under. Participation in this program does not mean that you will be eligible for P-EBT. You must register and be approved for the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program in order to be eligible for P-EBT.
P-EBT is not available in all states or school districts.
Although the Pandemic EBT program has been authorized by the federal government, each state must request and become approved to participate in P-EBT.
As of the time this post was created, only a handful of states and US Territories have been approved to disburse P-EBT funds for the 2020-2021 school year. Other states have applied and are still waiting for federal approval for this program.
To add another layer of confusion, each school and/or school district can determine whether or not to participate in P-EBT. This is because the school must’ve been closed or operating on limited hours for at least 5 consecutive days in a given period in order to be eligible.
The amount of money you receive from P-EBT will be complicated.
The P-EBT benefits are designed to help families afford meals on days when the children are home instead of eating at school. As a result, the USDA has stated that students are not eligible for P-EBT funds on the days they attend school in person and eat meals at the school. They may be eligible on days they do not attend school or attend but do not receive a meal.
P-EBT funds are available for weekdays when the child attends school virtually or through distance learning, but these funds are not available during school breaks or holidays.
It may take a while to get the 2020-2021 funds.
Although the federal government has authorized an extension through the 2021 school year, it may take a while for those funds to reach the families who need them. That’s because the government is a slow-moving machine.
For example, although the USDA shows that Illinois was approved to offer P-EBT for the 2020-2021 school year on January 15, the Illinois state website still does not reflect that change. It will take a while for all of the required changes to happen so that families can get these funds.
Here’s what you need to do to get P-EBT.
There are a lot of mixed messages about what you need to do to get P-EBT benefits. My research has revealed that it should be an automatic process for most families who are eligible.
However, if you have not received your Pandemic EBT benefits, here are some steps you can take.
- Make sure that your child is registered for the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program.
- Make sure that your school has your up-to-date contact information. If your address or phone number have changed since the start of the pandemic, make sure to notify the school as soon as possible.
- Confirm that your state is eligible for P-EBT benefits by checking the USDA website.
- Call your local school.
- Contact your state’s Department of Education.
- Contact your local state department that is in charge of food stamps. These Departments have different names depending on your state. For example, in Washington State, it is the Department of Social and Health Services. In Ohio, it’s the Department of Job and Family Services. In Arizona, it’s the Department of Economic Security.
- Contact your elected officials. When you can’t get through anywhere else, it’s helpful to look up your elected state officials and contact them for assistance.