Wolf Administration: Pandemic Food Aid to Continue For Students and Families in Need

foodImage by Nadin Dunnigan

HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania departments of Education (PDE), Agriculture, and Human Services (DHS) announced that thousands of students and families will continue to receive nutritious meals during the pandemic. The Biden Administration, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Services Department, is extending or providing flexibilities to the National School Lunch Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT).

“We are pleased to hear about USDA’s continued commitment to food security by creating opportunities for students and families to have access to resources that support nutritional needs through the next school year,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “These programs create accessibility and offer relief to families during such an unpredictable time in our lives.

National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option

The USDA recently announced several meal service flexibilities that enable social distancing are now extended through June 30, 2022. Usually only available during the summer, schools will have the option to serve meals through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through the 2021-22 school year. With this option, schools would receive higher meal reimbursements for each meal to support serving the most nutritious meals possible while managing increased costs associated with pandemic-related operational challenges. In addition, schools and childcare centers can continue providing breakfasts, lunches, and after school snacks in non-group settings at flexible mealtimes. Caregivers can also pick up meals for their children when programs are not operating normally, while maintaining appropriate social distancing. PDE is gathering additional information on these flexibilities from the USDA and will release associated guidance to schools soon.

Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT)

The Wolf Administration recently received approval from the USDA to extend P-EBT benefit eligibility to families of Pennsylvania SNAP-eligible children who are childcare-aged. This federally funded program helps families cover the cost of breakfasts and lunches for their children and is designed to help families who may have strained resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Benefits will be available to cover eligible children during the period of October 1, 2020 through May 31, 2021, and the first of three benefit issuances will begin this month.

Pennsylvania will distribute benefits to eligible families in three phases, as follows:

  • The first round of benefits will be distributed in late April or early May to the families of children eligible for P-EBT during the period of September 1, 2020, through November 30, 2020.
  • The second round of benefits will be distributed in early June to the families of children eligible for P-EBT during the period of December 1, 2020, to February 28, 2021.
  • The third round of benefits will be distributed in mid-July to the families of children eligible for P-EBT during the period of March 1, 2021, through May 31, 2021.

“P-EBT has been an incredible resource to help us ensure that parents have what they need to feed their families through this crisis and the unprecedented disruption to routine so many children have faced in the last year,” said Acting Secretary of Human Services Meg Snead. “This program keeps food on tables and supports small businesses and grocers that communities rely on, and I am very grateful for the Biden Administration’s continued commitment to helping families across Pennsylvania as we weather this crisis.”

Funded by the American Rescue Plan, the USDA also recently announced it would offer P-EBT benefits to all eligible children of all ages this summer. Summer meal programs are often considered a lifeline for some families. Children are eligible for this temporary nutrition benefit if they are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, or if they are under age six and live in a SNAP household. More information about P-EBT for Summer 2021 will be shared as plans are finalized.

More information on P-EBT is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Human Resources website.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Pennsylvania has also recently received additional financial support from the USDA to extend SNAP benefits to more families who may be in need. Households that currently receive the maximum monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit will begin to receive a regular monthly emergency allotment so long as Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration, which is required to authorize emergency allotments, remains in place. Households receiving the monthly maximum benefit will receive an additional payment equal to 50 percent of their normal monthly benefit. Households that previously received smaller emergency allotments will receive an amount equal to 50 percent of the monthly maximum for their households’ size.

Throughout the pandemic, PDE, Agriculture, and DHS have worked together and with other state and federal agencies, organizations, and programs to help ensure no student or family goes hungry throughout the COVID-19 public health crisis.

“These programs and the flexibilities proactively implemented by the USDA are critical extensions to our charitable food system in Pennsylvania,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “Pennsylvania is working to get back on our feet, but recovery takes time. These programs allow families to rely less on the charitable food system, which has been working in overdrive since the pandemic hit, while continuing to ensure kids receive the necessary nutrition to power through school days and grow their young minds.”

For more information about Pennsylvania’s education policies and programs, please visit the Department of Education’s website at www.education.pa.gov.

For more information about food security assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic security, 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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