Note: This document is based on information available as of the date of publication. As Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) continues to roll out Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program (P-EBT) for the months of August 2021 through May 2022 for school year 2021-2022 (SY 2021-2022), some of this information may change. Although this document will be updated to reflect any changes, FPI recommends consulting the Department of Children and Families’ P-EBT website for up-to-date details about any modifications to P-EBT eligibility criteria or issuance.
What are P-EBT benefits?
P-EBT is a program to help families buy groceries for children who normally would have gotten free or reduced-price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) but who could not get those meals because they were temporarily absent from school due to reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What school children are eligible for P-EBT in Florida for school year 2021-2022?
Eligibility criteria for SY 2021-2022 P-EBT are:
- The child attended a school that participates in the NSLP and the school operated with reduced attendance or hours for at least 5 consecutive days due to COVID during SY 2021-2022. (This requirement is met if one or more students were absent from the school due to COVID-related reasons for at least 5 consecutive days or the school was closed or reduced school hours for at least 5 consecutive days.)
- The child missed out on free-or-reduced price meals due to COVID-related absences.
- The child: receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Medicaid benefits; or attends a Community Eligibility Provision school or Provision 2 school, which are schools where every student gets meals at no cost; or has been determined eligible for the free or reduced-price school meal program by their school district through an application.
Do families have to fill out an application for P-EBT for their children?
Households must submit a P-EBT application separately for each child through DCF’s online application portal to receive P-EBT assistance for SY 2021-2022. This is different from past P-EBT cycles, when DCF did not require an application for P-EBT.
The last day to submit an application is July 31, 2022. The application form for P-EBT is an online document that can be accessed here.
Will families get P-EBT even though the 2021-2022 school year is over?
Even though SY 2021-2022 is over, P-EBT benefits will be issued retroactively if the child is otherwise eligible based on the application submitted by their parent or guardian.
What does applying for P-EBT involve?
To apply for P-EBT, DCF requires parents or guardians to create and activate a P-EBT user account, including selecting a password and providing a valid personal email address. After creating a P-EBT account, the parent must complete an application form, and provide the form to the child’s school for the school to substantiate in writing that the child was absent for COVID -related reasons. Among other things, the form will ask the school official to confirm the information on the form, sign the form, state their title or position, and provide a school stamp or seal.
After the school signs off on the form, the parent or guardian must submit the completed form on DCF’s online portal. If the form is not submitted, DCF will not be able to determine eligibility. The deadline to submit the completed form to DCF is on or before July 31, 2022.
DCF suggests that parents or guardians have certain information at their fingertips before starting the online application, including but not limited to their child’s student ID number (if one exists) and the exact dates of COVID-related absences.
What if parents or guardians have a disability that impacts their ability to apply for P-EBT?
DCF must make reasonable modifications in their policies and procedures under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability and allow everyone equal opportunity to participate in P-EBT. For example, if DCF’s online P-EBT application is inaccessible to a parent or guardian because of a visual, cognitive, or physical disability, DCF may have a responsibility to provide special assistance or a paper application so that the family is not excluded from the P-EBT program.
To ensure that all families have a chance to apply for P-EBT, DCF says that it will serve P-EBT applicants with disabilities in the same way that it currently serves SNAP participants who require additional assistance. One of the ways that DCF ensures participation in the SNAP program is to provide specialized regional contacts who may be able to assist people with disabilities to ensure that they are able to participate. In addition, complaints over ADA violations can also be filed with DCF’s Office of Civil Rights, which may result in resolution of the issue, as well as to USDA’s Office of Civil Rights, among other federal agencies.
What are some examples of COVID-related absences?
Because many schools do not keep records of absences due to COVID-related reasons, families may need to work with their child’s school to resolve whether an absence was COVID-related. Some of the examples that DCF gives for “COVID-related absences” are when the school tells a child to stay at home or quarantine and when a parent keeps their child home after testing positive or being exposed to COVID so long as the school acknowledges the absence as COVID related. However, families may have other reasons for absences that will qualify as COVID-related and are encouraged to explore all COVID-related absences with the school for purposes of P-EBT eligibility.
For schools that do not code absences as COVID-related, any absence recorded as “excused” by the school on the date claimed by the parent will be accepted by DCF as COVID-related.
Are children who are being home schooled or attending Florida Virtual School (FLVS) eligible for P-EBT?
If a child is not attending a NSLP school, the child is not eligible for P-EBT, including children who are home schooled or those who are in FLVS. This is because P-EBT benefits replace the meals that the child otherwise would have gotten at school through NSLP. Children who are home schooled or in FLVS are not in schools that participate in NSLP and are not eligible for P-EBT.
Can I submit one application for all my children at once?
Households must submit separate P-EBT applications for each child. If the child attended more than one school, a separate application is required for each school.
How much in P-EBT benefits will a child get?
If they qualify, school children will be able to receive P-EBT for the days that they missed school and did not have access to meal service at the school due to COVID from August 2021 through May 2022.
During this go-round with P-EBT, children will get $7.10 a day for each day they qualify. This represents money for breakfast, lunch, and a snack. The amount of P-EBT that a family gets will be determined by multiplying the number of days that the child is eligible for P-EBT benefits by the daily rate of $7.10. For example, if a child missed school for 10 days after they got COVID, the family would receive $71 in P-EBT assistance to replace the meals that the child lost at school under the NSLP. However, no minimum number of absences are required to trigger P-EBT eligibility so long as the child is otherwise qualified, even if the student only missed one day of school because of COVID.
P-EBT benefits will only be issued for days that a student missed school for a COVID-related reason. P-EBT will not be issued for weekends, school breaks, holidays, or teacher planning days.
Some students will be P-EBT-eligible based on the fact that they have applied and been determined eligible for NSLP --and not because they participate in SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid or because they attend a school where everyone gets free meals. If these students became eligible for NSLP at some time after the start of the 2021-2022 school year, benefits will only be provided from the date they applied for free and reduced-price meals.
P-EBT benefits expire after 9 months of inactivity.
How does P-EBT work?
P-EBT benefits are provided on EBT cards to the parent or guardian. If the child currently receives SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid, the benefit will be issued to the household on file with DCF. For children who are not receiving SNAP, TANF or Medicaid, P-EBT will be issued to the parent who applied for the child, if verified by the school.
EBT cards are used like debit or credit cards to buy food. Most grocery stores and many farmers markets accept P-EBT. In addition, several retailers accept P-EBT online, including Walmart, Amazon, Aldi, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Freshfields Farm, Hitchcock’s Markets, Publix, Mt. Plymouth IGA, and Whole Foods. However, P-EBT cannot be used for delivery fees.
P-EBT benefits can be used to buy seeds or plants to grow food, but not for alcohol, hot foods, and foods prepared for immediate consumption, like toasted sandwiches at the deli.
How will a household get their P-EBT card?
Families will get their EBT cards in different ways depending on whether they participate in SNAP or received P-EBT in Florida in the past:
- For current SNAP participants, families will receive P-EBT benefits on their existing EBT card.
- Families with children who are not currently participating in SNAP but who received P-EBT benefits for SY 2020-2021 or during the Summer of 2021 will receive P-EBT benefits on their existing P-EBT card.
- Students who are not currently receiving SNAP and did not receive P-EBT benefits during school year 2020-2021 or Summer 2021 will be issued a new P-EBT card.
For families that need new cards, DCF says that delivery generally occurs in 7-10 business days.
This is what P-EBT cards look like:
What about families who cannot find their old EBT card?
DCF tells families who have lost or damaged their P-EBT card, or have had their card stolen, to call 1-888-356-3281 for a replacement card.
How long will it take DCF to issue P-EBT to eligible children?
DCF will begin to issue P-EBT for SY 2021-2022 at the end of June 2022.
In most cases, families should receive their benefits within two weeks of the date that they submit their complete P-EBT application. To be complete, the application must have been completed by the parent, signed by the child’s school, and submitted to DCF.
If students do not currently have an EBT or P-EBT card, new cards are supposed to be delivered within 7-10 business days.
What if a family does not want P-EBT benefits?
Since families must affirmatively apply for P-EBT this go round, only children whose parents or guardians submitted an application for them will be provided benefits for SY 2021-2022. However, if a family receives a P-EBT card that they do not want or no longer need, DCF says that the family should destroy the card. P-EBT benefits cannot be given away or donated to someone else.
Where is a list of Florida schools that participate in NSLP?
DCF has a list of all schools that participate in NSLP here.
What is the background of P-EBT?
The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Program (P-EBT) is authorized by Congress in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, as amended, as a temporary measure to provide food assistance to children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals but whose schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
States are not mandated to offer P-EBT. To run a P-EBT program, each state must get permission from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approving the details of the state’s proposal. On March 9, 2022, FNS approved P-EBT for school children in Florida for SY 2021-2022.
How many children in Florida will get P-EBT for SY 2021-2022?
Fewer children in Florida will qualify for P-EBT during SY 2021-2022 than in past years. This is because most students returned to in-person learning and were able to get free or reduced-price meals at school if eligible. Even so, DCF estimates that more than one-half million school children in Florida will qualify for an average of about $710 in P-EBT for this past school year. But the actual amount that any one child will get depends on how many days that child was absent from school for a COVID-related reason.
Can children in private schools get P-EBT?
As long as the school participates in the NSLP and all eligibility requirements are met, children in public, private, and charter schools can get P-EBT in Florida for SY 2021-2022.
Are children who returned to in-person learning at their schools eligible for P-EBT for days that they had to be absent because they got COVID or were in quarantine?
Most children in Florida returned to in-person learning for the 2021-2022 school year. However, some of these children ended up having to stay home from school for one or more days after they got COVID, were waiting for the results of COVID tests after they were exposed, or for another COVID-related reason. Children who returned to in-person learning at their schools in 2021-2022 can receive P-EBT for any days that they had to stay at home for a COVID-related reason, so long as they meet all other eligibility criteria.
What if DCF makes a mistake concerning a child’s P-EBT?
DCF has activated a specialized P-EBT customer call center (1-833-311-0321) for families if they have problems with P-EBT benefits. Families who have trouble with P-EBT should call this specialized call center for help. Examples of situations in which families may want to reach out to the P-EBT call center include cases in which a child is denied P-EBT, the parent or guardian disagrees with the amount of P-EBT authorized by DCF, the family never receives their P-EBT card or approved benefits, or the family is told that their application is incomplete.
If families are unable to resolve P-EBT problems on their own, local legal aid programs may be able to help.
Where can families go for more information about P-EBT in Florida?
For more information about Florida’s P-EBT program for SY 2021-2022, see:
- DCF’s P-EBT Webpage