Roughly 1.4 million families with low income who have school-aged children in Florida are the beneficiaries of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) assistance. P-EBT is a federal program that provides one-time food benefits to children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) but whose schools are closed due to the pandemic. P-EBT helps ensure that children who ordinarily get fed at school do not go hungry during the COVID-19 shut down.
Most eligible families in Florida should have automatically received P-EBT benefits from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) by June 30, 2020, except for families with qualified children in private or charter schools, who may not have received their P-EBT until July 21. No application was necessary.
Families who believe that their children qualify for P-EBT but either did not receive any benefits or received benefits in an amount that they think is incorrect, have recourse.
The first step is to call DCF’s special P-EBT number at 1- 833-311-0321 to discuss the problem. If calling that number does not result in a fix or provide a satisfactory explanation, DCF has an appeal process that should be available to P-EBT claimants. More information about DCF’s appeal process is here.
There are three different categories of children who qualify for P-EBT in Florida and should have already received benefits:
P-EBT benefits were automatically distributed to families with eligible children in three ways in Florida:
The amount of P-EBT benefits that households should have received is based on two things: how many eligible children are in the family and the date when their children become eligible for NSLP free or reduced-price school meals.
Children in families participating in SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF who were enrolled in a school participating in the NSLP prior to March 16, 2020, should have received a one-time benefit of $5.70 per day for the remaining 55 days in the school year, for a total of $313.50. This is also true for children who, although not in families who receive SNAP, Medicaid, or TANF, were receiving free or reduced-price meals through NSLP prior to the school closing on March 16.
Some families did not become eligible for P-EBT until after schools closed, for example because either they did not apply for the NSLP until after their school closed or they became eligible for SNAP, TANF or Medicaid after the school shut down. For children in those families, P-EBT benefits were prorated based on the date that the child become eligible.
If a child did not become eligible for free or reduced-price school meals until after March 16, 2020, P-EBT benefits were prorated based on the month of eligibility:
P-EBT benefits expire 365 days after issuance.
P-EBT benefits can be used to buy food at participating retailers, with certain exceptions such as alcohol, pet food, hot foods, and foods prepared for immediate consumption, like toasted sandwiches at the deli.
There are ways to stretch P-EBT benefits. Families who use P-EBT at participating farmer markets across the state can get an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match for all SNAP purchases on fresh produce through August 31, 2020.
In addition, P-EBT can even be used to buy seeds or plants to grow food.
The purpose of P-EBT is to help families feed their children for the period of time when schools were supposed to be in session but were closed due to the pandemic. Families in Florida whose children qualify were supposed to have automatically received their P-EBT benefits by July 21, 2020, at the latest. Parents or guardians who think that their child is eligible for P-EBT, but who did not get any assistance or received P-EBT in an amount that they believe is incorrect, should follow up with DCF.
The bad news is that, with the roll out of any new program as large as P-EBT, mistakes happen. The good news is that mistakes can be corrected. No eligible child in need should miss out due to an administrative oversight.