HARRISBURG, PA — The departments of Human Services (DHS) and Education (PDE) this week submitted for federal approval the Wolf Administration’s plan to issue more than $1 billion in federally-funded benefits to the families of Pennsylvania children who have attended school remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and who otherwise would have had access to free-and-reduced-price meals during the 2020-21 school year. This program, known as Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), will help families cover the cost of breakfasts and lunches their children would have been eligible to receive for free or at reduced price through the National School Lunch Program.
Originally created through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to help families feed their children during the spring of 2020 when schools initially closed, the P-EBT program was re-authorized last year to cover the entire 2020-21 school year. DHS and PDE have submitted Pennsylvania’s new P-EBT plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval.
“This pandemic has stretched millions of household budgets near or past the breaking point, illuminating the growing need for a robust social safety net. The extension of the P-EBT program will provide desperately needed relief to families with children across Pennsylvania and the country,” DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said. “We are committed to rolling out a P-EBT program equitably and as quickly as possible.”
If the plan submitted to the federal government today is approved, Pennsylvania will distribute the equivalent of about $84 million per month to the families of about 928,000 children – for a total distribution of about $1 billion. The plan reflects the cost of meals for 180 school days during the period of July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021. These benefits are funded by the federal government.
“Pennsylvania has prioritized food security for school communities throughout the pandemic,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “The extension of the P-EBT benefit offers students and families continued access to resources that support their nutritional needs.”
Pennsylvania plans to distribute benefits to eligible families in two phases, as follows:
- The first round of benefits will be distributed about six weeks after the federal government’s approval (estimating late spring). The families of children eligible for P-EBT during the period of September 1, 2020, through January 31, 2021, will receive this first round of benefits.
- The second round of benefits will be distributed in July to families of children eligible for P-EBT during the period of February 1, 2021, through May 31, 2021.
The families of eligible children will receive benefits equal to the daily reimbursement rate for school breakfast and lunches through the National School Lunch Program — $2.26 for breakfast, $0.96 for a snack and $3.60 for lunch. P-EBT benefits are equal to $6.82 per day that the child is eligible for P-EBT.
The re-authorization of P-EBT requires states to issue P-EBT benefits to the families of eligible children only for the days that a child could not access school meals because the child attended school virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis. Based on a 180-day school calendar, a child who attended school virtually each day would be eligible for $1,227.60 in total P-EBT benefits.
The law also required states to develop a plan for P-EBT benefits for eligible children who attended school in a blended learning model. The Wolf Administration’s plan is to issue benefits for blended model schools at a rate of 65 percent of the amount that a fully virtual student would receive.
For children whose families already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, the P-EBT benefit will be issued to the household’s regular EBT card. For all other families, P-EBT benefits will be issued on a white card that is mailed to the family’s home address. The mailing will also include a detailed pamphlet explaining what the EBT card is, where and how to use the EBT card, how to create a PIN for the card, and what items are eligible for purchase with the card. All eligible families will receive information directly from DHS.
Eligibility for P-EBT is determined by eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, so there is no need for families to apply separately for P-EBT. Pennsylvania families can apply for the National School Lunch Program at www.compass.state.pa.us or through their local school district. Children already enrolled will receive P-EBT benefits. Most students throughout the state are receiving free meals through their school due to flexibilities provided by USDA. However, not all students receiving these meals through these flexibilities will qualify for P-EBT. Only the students that have been found eligible for the National School Lunch Program or attend a school where all students are deemed eligible are eligible for P-EBT. Submitting a National School Lunch Program application will not affect a student’s ability to continue to receive those meals.
The re-authorization of P-EBT extended eligibility to children enrolled in child care settings who receive SNAP and meet certain criteria. DHS will submit a separate plan to issue P-EBT benefits to the families of these children for federal approval.
Applications for SNAP, Medicaid, and other public assistance programs that provide help with utilities, home energy, and cash assistance can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Those who prefer to submit a paper application can print from the website, pick one up at a County Assistance Office (CAO), or request an application by phone at 1-800-692-7462 and mail it to their local CAO or place it in a CAO’s secure drop box, if available. You do not need to know your own eligibility to apply. While CAOs remain closed, work processing applications, determining eligibility, and issuing benefits continues. Clients should use COMPASS or the MyCOMPASS PA mobile app to submit necessary updates to their case files while CAOs are closed to the public.
For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit the Department of Agriculture’s food security guide.
For more information on public assistance programs, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.
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