The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) was created to assist students who relied on free or reduced lunch programs through school. Families with more than one child will receive more funds. A family’s ability to receive the funds will not be impacted by their participation in meals-to-go programs provided during the pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the funds will be loaded on cards similar to debit cards and will be accepted at any grocery store that accepts Link cards.
The cards, which will be mailed this month, will be preloaded with money for students who were in virtual learning through December. A second card will contain funds for the start of this year through March as students return to in-person classes. The cards will only contain money for days students partake in virtual learning; they will have access to in-school meals the other days.
In order to receive the cards in a timely manner, state officials are urging families to make sure their child’s school has their current address. All families with children in Chicago Public Schools are eligible regardless of income or citizenship status. Those who receive SNAP benefits will also get a separate card instead of the funds being combined onto existing electronic benefits transfer cards, according to the state department.
“There are a lot of families struggling right now with kids not having access to meals at school unfortunately there are a lot of kids are going hungry,” Senior Manager of Public Benefits Outreach Claudia Rodriguez of the Greater Chicago Food Depository said according to ABC News. “We think about adults going hungry who may be homeless or under employed but there are a lot of families with children that are struggling.”
The move comes as an effort to end hunger for all. While it’s currently serving Chicago, hope remains that the program will expand nationally. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Illinois is one of the 20 states with plans for the program that were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While a similar program was available last year, families enrolled in SNAP programs had to fill out separate forms, meaning those who did not know about the program were unable to access the benefits. The new P-EBT program combats this issue of access by automatically mailing the cards to all eligible students. According to CPS data, 76% of the benefiting students are classified as “economically disadvantaged.”
“Research shows that children who are hungry are not able to focus and learn,” State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said in a statement. “Schools have served more than 113 million meals to students since the pandemic began, and the P-EBT builds on this care and commitment to ensure all Illinois children have their nutritional needs met.”
According to Feeding America, nearly 30 million children in the U.S. qualified for free or reduced-cost lunches at school in 2019. Studies have linked food insecurity in children to poor health, stunted development, behavioral issues, and difficulty keeping up in school—all issues that have increased amid the pandemic.
Research experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that the number of households with food insecurity across the U.S. has doubled since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, at least 2.5 million children have fallen below the poverty line since May 2020. The experts noted that each day at least 14 million children go hungry, with children of color being the most vulnerable.
While remote learning has enabled students and their families to be protected from the novel coronavirus, other disparities have increased. In addition to the pandemic contributing to a loss of jobs nationwide, remote learning has limited children’s access to free or reduced-price meals, resulting in increased food insecurity. Prior to the pandemic, many children relied on school meals for breakfast and lunch. The need to replace these meals amid remote learning is severe and greatly impacts the growth of children.
While schools and cities are making efforts to provide meals for children at multiple locations, more needs to be done nationwide. Lack of food security leads to a number of other issues and cannot be taken lightly. These payments make a difference but are not enough. America needs to do better to address issues of hunger.