September 14, 2020
Millions of families have lost jobs and wages due to the economic crisis created by COVID-19. In response, Congress has taken a number of steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on hunger, unemployment, and housing. These efforts — some of which already have expired or will expire on September 30 — remain critical for struggling families across the country. One such effort is the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, created by Congress through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It provides an EBT card with the value of free school breakfast and lunch for the days that families lost access to free and reduced-price school meals due to school closures. Without Congressional action, P-EBT will end on September 30.
For families who have received P-EBT, the program offered a lifeline that filled the nutrition needs no longer being met by school meals. To understand the implementation and impact of P- EBT, FRAC and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) conducted a rapid assessment of this critical program, which included surveys and interviews of state officials and advocates to document how their state implemented P-EBT. As is evident in the state profiles that FRAC and CBPP developed about each state’s program, the implementation took tremendous effort, creativity, and agility by state officials and other stakeholders. The first report on our findings, entitled Congressional Inaction Exacerbates Hardship, Effective Tools Are Available and Should Be Used, details the struggles of low-income families throughout the pandemic; shows the impact that P-EBT has had on these families; and outlines the actions Congress must take to ensure that the program’s continued expansion and success result in reaching hungry children.
FRAC calls upon Congress to extend the P-EBT program through December 2021 and to take the following actions to expand access to the program in the coming school year.
- Make P-EBT more responsive to the variety of ways that schools may operate in the upcoming school year due to the pandemic. In the 2020–2021 school year, different districts are using varied models of reopening. These include fully in-person (eliminating the need for P-EBT benefits as students are present to receive meals), fully virtual instruction, and hybrid versions of the two. P-EBT benefits would be helpful to students in virtual and hybrid situations though current rules make it difficult to ensure students can and will receive benefits.
- Extend P-EBT to low-income families who rely on meals provided through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Families with young children, including infants and toddlers, are disproportionately represented among those who haven’t benefited from SNAP increases during the pandemic, as many were already receiving the maximum benefit. Because young children may have been receiving free or reduced-price meals in childcare, they may be receiving less food assistance now than prior to the pandemic.
- Expand the P-EBT program to Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. These areas were left out of P-EBT, even though they operate federal school meals programs. In Puerto Rico, this caused nearly 300,000 children in public schools to miss out on these critical benefits.
For a full list of P-EBT improvements FRAC would like to see included in the next relief package, see FRAC’s P-EBT Priorities.
 See https://frac.org/pebt-study for links to a profile for each state (which includes how the state identified eligible children, issued benefits, and responded to inquiries from families) and a compilation of state materials (including websites, benefit applications, notices, and outreach materials). A report summarizing the joint findings, case studies of eight states, and state-by-state tables describing implementation features will soon be available at that site.