The Lead

Eligible Pa. families to see relief after COVID-19 disrupted school meal programs

By: - May 11, 2022 12:13 pm

Chronic absenteeism rates fell 8 percentage points among schools in Nevada and Colorado that adopted the ‘Breakfast after the Bell’ program (Image via Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images/The Conversation).

Families with children affected by COVID-19 closings should soon see relief with federal approval of a program that will cover the costs of school meals after the pandemic disrupted traditional operations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Pennsylvania’s Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer Plan for the 2021-22 school year, the state Department of Human Services announced Wednesday. 

Department of Human Services acting Secretary Meg Snead described the P-EBT program — which provides funds to make up for missed school meals resulting from the pandemic — as a “lifeline” for families. The initiative helps eligible families cover the costs of breakfasts and lunches for kids at a free or a reduced price through the National School Lunch Program in schools or childcare facilities.

Feeding America, a national nonprofit devoted to supporting anti-hunger initiatives, estimates that 1.3 million people in Pennsylvania, including 380,000 children, struggle with food insecurity. As businesses and schools closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hunger became a more visible issue, with long lines at food distribution sites and an increased need for donations.

“The continuation of P-EBT will ensure eligible children and families whose in-person schooling was disrupted due to a confirmed COVID-19 case or school closure will receive support for meals that they would have otherwise received if they were in school,” Snead said in a statement.

Children who received free or reduced-price school meals are eligible for these 2021-22 school year benefits if their school was closed or had reduced hours for at least five consecutive days because of the pandemic and if the student was absent due to COVID-19. 

The department said that eligible families should expect to receive program benefits in mid-to-late June.

“We know that healthy minds are fueled by healthy bodies, and P-EBT helps ensure that students have access to nutritious meals both in and out of school,” acting Secretary of Education Eric Hagarty said in a statement. “This critical program has a profound effect on the lives of so many in communities across the commonwealth, and we are pleased to see it continue uninterrupted.”

Families who previously received and activated P-EBT cards should keep them and confirm that their child’s school has a current mailing address with the correct birthday for any school-aged child. Parents who have a standard EBT card for other benefits — including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and cash assistance — and have children deemed eligible for P-EBT will have their benefits loaded to their EBT card if possible.

Those without their P-EBT cards will be able to get a replacement through an automated replacement card process that will be available once the department starts issuing them. Families with students who entered kindergarten in the fall of 2021 or entered a different school district for the current school year can fill out an application for free or reduced-price school meals by visiting their district website or applying through COMPASS.

For further help, call 484-363-2137.

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