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Wolf Administration Begins Distribution of $1 Billion in Pandemic EBT Benefits to Families of Eligible School-Age Children

05/12/2021

Harrisburg, PA - Today, the Pennsylvania departments of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead and Education (PDE) Acting Secretary Noe Ortega announced the Wolf Administration has begun distribution of Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) federally funded benefits to the families of nearly 1 million 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. 

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 to cover the entire 2020-21 school year. P-EBT helps 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.

“The P-EBT benefits distributed last year were a much-needed boost for families at the end of the 2019-20 school year. But, as we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic did not resolve in a matter of months,” Acting Secretary Snead said. “When school resumed in the fall, many students continued learning virtually and eating most of their meals at home. This unexpected expense happened at a time when so many low-income families were also facing unemployment or a significant reduction in income due to the economic impacts of the pandemic. The P-EBT benefits we began distributing this week will help these families catch up and move forward.”

“The pandemic has created many challenges for Pennsylvania’s school communities, including finding ways to ensure students have continued access to school meals,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “The distribution of P-EBT funds to families across Pennsylvania is part of a system of support that offers relief to families and provides resources for a child’s nutritional needs.”

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. Children already enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, or who attend a school where all students are deemed eligible for the program, will receive P-EBT benefits. Children who are home schooled, attend a cyber charter school, or are enrolled in a school that does not participate in the National School Lunch Program are not eligible for P-EBT, per federal law. Families can use their P-EBT benefits to purchase almost any food item in a typical grocery store. The program follows the same rules as SNAP. Like SNAP, P-EBT benefits cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco products, prepared foods, non-food items (like diapers and toothpaste) and pet products. 

Pennsylvania departments of Human Services and Education collaborated on the development of the commonwealth’s P-EBT plan, which was approved by the federal government in March. Pennsylvania will distribute more than $1 billion in P-EBT benefits to eligible families in three phases, as follows:

  • The first round of benefits is being distributed now, with all P-EBT cards expected to be mailed by the end of 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 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 July to the families of children eligible for P-EBT during the period of March 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 required 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. For the first two rounds of issuances, the Wolf Administration will issue benefits for blended model schools at a rate of 65 percent of the amount that a fully virtual student would receive. The administration will survey schools in late spring to determine a new average rate and a final round of benefits accordingly.

Families will receive P-EBT funds in one of two ways: on a new P-EBT-only card that will be mailed to the household; or on the standard EBT card the family already uses for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, if possible. All eligible families who do not currently receive SNAP benefits will receive new P-EBT-only cards in the mail. The card will come in the child's name in a plain envelope addressed to the household. The return address on the card's envelope will be from Texas. For families with multiple eligible children, each child will receive their own card. To activate the card, follow the instructions that come with the mailing. Some families that receive SNAP benefits will receive P-EBT-only cards in the mail, and some families that receive SNAP benefits will see P-EBT funds loaded on to their standard EBT card. Families with eligible children should expect to receive their P-EBT cards sometime from the end of May to the end of June.

The Wolf Administration also received federal approval recently to extend P-EBT benefit eligibility to families of Pennsylvania SNAP-eligible children age 5 and younger. This federally funded program is designed to bridge the gap left by child care centers closing and to help families who may have strained resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Distribution of these benefits will begin in early June and continue in three phases over the summer months.

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. More information about P-EBT for Summer 2021 will be shared as plans are finalized. 

For more information on P-EBT, visit https://www.dhs.pa.gov/coronavirus/Pages/P-EBT-Guide.aspx.

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.

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin James - ra-pwdhspressoffice@pa.gov

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