The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) just got an expansive revamp from Congress for the 2020-2021 school year.
In a federal Continuing Resolution that became law on October 1, states can ask the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for permission to provide P-EBT in 2020-2021 to children who have a reduced number of days or hours that they’re physically present in a brick-and-mortar school or child care. This includes many of the students in Florida who have opted for distance learning in schools that are otherwise open as usual.
Expansion of P-EBT in the Continuing Resolution is a big deal — and not just because it helps combat hunger for kids who otherwise would not be getting enough to eat outside of school. For the first time, the Continuing Resolution lets states provide P-EBT to kids in hybrid school situations or child-care facilities, which was not allowed in the past.
P-EBT for 2020-2021 cannot be rolled out soon enough.
Children in Florida are going hungry in record numbers because of the pandemic. Roughly 11 percent of families with children in Florida say that they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat, and less than half reported that they had enough of the types of food they wanted, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for September 16 –28. And hunger is not color blind in Florida, either. Even before the pandemic, people of color were almost twice as likely to be food insecure in Florida.
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, 2.07 million hungry children in Florida received P-EBT to make up for lost meals after schools closed in March 2020. But the new-and-improved P-EBT program authorized by the Continuing Resolution won’t be activated in Florida for the 2020-2021 school year without approval from the federal government. Unless the state asks USDA to re-up Florida’s P-EBT program for the new school year, many children will lose out on free or reduced-price school meals.
Hopefully, Florida policymakers are already working on the state’s request to USDA. At a time when families continue to suffer a myriad of economic setbacks due to the pandemic, P-EBT offers a glimmer of hope that, at a minimum, children won’t go hungry.