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Wolf Administration Receives Approval for Plan to Provide Food Assistance to Families of Nearly 1 Million Pennsylvania Children

03/16/2021

Harrisburg, PA - The Wolf Administration has received approval from the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue more than $1 billion in 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. 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 to cover the entire 2020-21 school year. The Pennsylvania departments of Human Services and Education collaborated on the development of the commonwealth’s P-EBT plan and received approval to move forward from the federal government this week.

“The pandemic caused hardships for Pennsylvania families that nobody could have anticipated or planned for,” DHS Secretary Teresa Miller said. “The P-EBT program provides needed relief to many families with school-age children whose expenses unexpectedly increased at the same time that so many family incomes unexpectedly decreased.”

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.

“Hunger and food security impact a child. When well fed and properly nourished, children express themselves, focus, and learn better,” said Acting Secretary Noe Ortega. “The approval of this benefit provides continued access to resources that will support the growth and development of thousands of children across Pennsylvania, and that earns an A+ in my book.” 

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.

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.

For children who 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, if possible. For all other families, P-EBT benefits will be issued on a white card that is mailed to the family’s home address in each eligible child’s name. 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 also receive a separate letter 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. 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.

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.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kendall Alexander - kenalexand@pa.gov

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