About a month ago, the First Family Coronavirus Response Act created an electronic pandemic benefit transfer program (P-EBT) to give low-income families access to nutritious food while schools were closed. The law took effect on March 18 and required states to submit, and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve, planning to operate a new P-EBT program. The USDA guidelines for countries were followed on March 20, determining the process for submitting plans and obtaining agency approval. Now, weeks later, only nine countries has submitted a plan and only two, Rhode Island and Michigan, have been approved to date. Given that American households report an increase in leave, layoffs, and unemployment applications, P-EBT can provide an important lifeline for families when school food is not available.
What is P-EBT?
The P-EBT program allows states to temporarily issue EBT cards for low-income families with children attending schools that offer free school meals, if the school has been closed for five or more consecutive days. The P-EBT card value will be at least of free school meals for each child for five school days, of around $ 114 per month per child.
Who is Eligible?
A state must first submit a P-EBT plan which includes information such as how the country will provide EBT benefits to families, dates of implementation, and the amount of benefits. Before households in the state can receive P-EBT benefits, the USDA must approve the state plan.
Unfortunately, the state offices that manage the state food coupon program (officially called the Additional Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) “struggle to respond to the increasing number of families and individuals who become eligible for SNAP benefits,” which could lead to this office become overwhelmed if they don’t carefully plan the implementation of P-EBT, according to to the Food Research & Action Center.
The P-EBT program is very interesting because it applies to households that participate in SNAP and those who do not currently participate in SNAP. Per USDA recently guidance, the household must have at least one child who attends a school that is closed for at least five consecutive days, and that child must be eligible to receive free or lower-priced school meals. As part of the country planning process, they must discuss how they will verify revenue information to determine eligibility.
Which country has the P-EBT program?
On April 14, 2020, only nine states have submitted P-EBT plans: Arizona, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Rhode Island. Of these, only Michigan and Rhode Island have received agency approval. In these two states alone, more than 750,000 school children are eligible for free or discounted food. Families will now be able to offset the cost of the food these children are supposed to consume at school.
The USDA has not followed up on the remaining seven state P-EBT plans, but is expected to do so in the coming days. Even so, 41 countries still have not submitted plans, which means that families in many countries do not have access to the benefits of P-EBT for which they are eligible.
Many advocates want to see the expansion of the P-EBT program. According to Abby Leibman, President and CEO of MAZON, an anti-hunger organization, Congress “must do more: they must extend this benefit period to ensure they are available during the summer months; they must expand the feasibility of P-EBT for all Americans who need it; and the Administration must promote the program to each Governor, making it easy and attractive for the country to apply. “
P-EBT is not the only food aid provision in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The law also allows emergency allotment of additional SNAP benefits, and USDA guidelines have limited it allotment to the maximum level per household size. In a recent report, the Center for Budget and Policy Priority (CBPP) is stated that the interpretation of the USDA will provide a little help to “every household that has received the maximum benefits, which makes up nearly 40 percent of SNAP households and those with the lowest income.” The CBPP report added, “the reason households receive maximum benefits is because they have no income is available for buying food under the SNAP benefit calculation rules. “
The First Family Coronavirus Response Act was among the first of several federal responses to economic disruption caused by COVID-19. Congress then passed the Coronavirus, Assistance, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a stimulus bill estimated at more than $ 2.1 billion, which did not expand benefits or eligibility criteria for SNAP. When Congress debates the next phase of economic recovery, a lot to debate that the next bill should go further to expand the national food aid program.