UPDATED May 19, 2020
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, authorized through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, provides states a critical opportunity to provide support, efficiently and comprehensively, to families that rely on free or reduced-price school meals when school is open. Through P-EBT, states can issue eligible households an EBT card with the value of the free school breakfast and lunch reimbursement rates for the number of weekdays that schools are closed due to COVID-19 (estimated to be around $5.70 per day).
Eligible households include those with children certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals and children who attend schools that offer free school meals to all students. Schools must be closed for five or more consecutive days for families to participate.
P-EBT provides families the necessary flexibility to purchase food in a way that makes the most sense during this time. Every state can and should take advantage of this opportunity.
As of May 19, 31 states have been approved to provide benefits through P-EBT: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland , Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
While the momentum that P-EBT has set in motion has been positive, too many eligible families continue to miss out on benefits for which they are eligible.
Once P-EBT plans are received from states, USDA should move quickly to approve them. Those states that have not submitted a plan yet should prioritize developing and submitting their P-EBT plans to USDA for approval.
For many states, the first and easiest step will be to increase benefits for SNAP households with school-age children, as P-EBT benefits can be added easily to existing cases.
For eligible non-SNAP families, states will need to develop plans based off of available data and existing systems. Michigan and Rhode Island’s plans include data-sharing between the child nutrition and SNAP agency to cross-reference school meals eligibility against existing SNAP cases in order to identify non-SNAP households. While this strategy ensures that an additional application isn’t required for families to start receiving P-EBT benefits, state agencies should ensure that data is as current as possible and that the data capture any families that may be newly eligible for either SNAP or school meals.
States also should carefully consider how families who are newly eligible for P-EBT will be able to access the program’s benefits. Millions across the country are losing jobs and wages. These families would be applying for free school meals if schools were open and able to accept free school meals applications. What can states do? Promote SNAP, as well as encourage the processing of school meals applications, and then link the newly eligible families to P-EBT.
Once state P-EBT plans are approved, it is important that families are aware of the opportunity and have the information they need to access benefits quickly. State advocates and anti-hunger organizations can play an important role in helping to get the word out. Soon, FRAC will be releasing a communications guide to help states develop a P-EBT communications plan.