Note: This document is based on information available as of the date of publication. When Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) begin to roll out P-EBT this year, some of this information may change. Although this document will be updated to reflect any changes, Florida Policy Institute (FPI) recommends consulting the Department of Children and Families’ and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services websites for up-to-date details about any modifications to P-EBT eligibility criteria or issuance.
This post was last updated on March 23, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Program (P-EBT) was originally authorized by Congress in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as a temporary measure to provide food assistance in School Year (SY) 2019-2020 to children who were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) but who could not get those meals because their schools were closed in the Spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. States were not mandated to offer P-EBT, although every state opted into the program.
The SY 2019-2020 P-EBT program was an enormous success in helping address food insecurity among children whose families lost jobs during COVID-19 and were struggling to put food on the table. In Florida alone, the state issued P-EBT benefits to more than 2.2 million children in the amount of almost $690 million in 2020.
Since the pandemic has continued to impact school operations, Congress reauthorized P-EBT in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-260) for SY 2020-2021. Under this reauthorization, P-EBT has been expanded to allow states, at their option, to provide P-EBT in SY 2020-2021 to children who would be receiving free or reduced-price school meals if their child care facility or school was not closed or operating with reduced attendance or hours for at least five consecutive days in the current school year. P-EBT for SY 2020-2021 is different from P-EBT for SY 2019-2020 because Congress permits states to provide assistance not only to school children but also to children in child care.
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. To date, FNS has not authorized Florida to administer a P-EBT program for child care. However on March 1, 2021, FNS did approve P-EBT for school children in Florida for SY 2020-2021.
Although details are still being hashed out, this is what is known so far: school children are eligible for P-EBT if they would have received free or reduced-price meals at their schools if not for the closure or reduced attendance or hours of their schools for at least five consecutive days.
Here are answers to common questions about P-EBT and how to make sure a child is eligible:
What school children are eligible for P-EBT in Florida during the current school year (SY 2020-2021)?
For children not getting free or reduced-price meals at school because their school is closed or has been operating with reduced attendance or hours for at least five consecutive days in the current school year, eligibility includes:
- Children getting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Medicaid benefits who go to a school participating in the free or reduced-price school meal program;
- Children who attend a Community Eligibility Provision school or Provision 2 or 3 school, which are schools where every student gets meals at no cost; and
- Children approved by their school district to receive free or reduced-price meals.
If a parent/caretaker has one child that attends school virtually all the time and another who goes in person to school some days of the week but does distance learning for the other days, are they eligible?
Yes. Children who attend school virtually can qualify for P-EBT if they are otherwise eligible. This includes children who go to school virtually some days and in person other days if they cannot receive free or reduced-price meals from the school.
How does P-EBT work?
P-EBT benefits are issued on EBT cards to the parent or guardian of eligible children. EBT cards are used like debit or credit cards to buy food. Most grocery stores and many farmers markets accept P-EBT. These benefits can be used to buy food, with certain exceptions such as alcohol, hot foods, and foods prepared for immediate consumption, like toasted sandwiches at the deli.
P-EBT can even be used to buy seeds or plants to grow food.
How much does P-EBT provide in benefits?
During this go-round with P-EBT, children will get $6.82 a day for each day they qualify. This represents money for breakfast, lunch, and — new this school year — a snack.
P-EBT allotments for SY 2020-2021 are roughly a dollar more than they were last school year. Last year’s P-EBT program provided benefits of only $5.70 per day.
P-EBT benefits will not be issued for weekends, school breaks, or holidays.
How many months of P-EBT will a child get?
If they qualify, children will be able to receive P-EBT for the months of August 2020 through June 2021.
Do people have to apply to get P-EBT for their kids?
No. If a child is eligible for P-EBT, they will automatically receive the benefits.
However, if a child does not go to a school where all students are automatically entitled to free meals, the child must be either enrolled to receive free or reduced-price school meals or in a household participating in SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid to be eligible for P-EBT. If a child is not in a school where all students get free meals, has not applied for free or reduced price meals, and is not in a household getting SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid, applying for one of those programs should be considered in order to trigger P-EBT eligibility.
To be on the safe side, it is important that a child has applied and been approved for free or reduced price meals through their school.
How will families get their P-EBT?
Families are not required to apply for P-EBT. Instead, benefits will be automatically issued to families with eligible children.
Issuance will take place in the same way that P-EBT benefits were issued for the 2019-2020 school year. Where possible DCF will issue one card to the household with multiple students. If Florida is unable to identify students within the same household, a card will be issued for each child.
DCF says that families with eligible children who currently receive SNAP or TANF will automatically receive P-EBT benefits on their existing EBT card. If possible, eligible participants will get text blasts and/or emails from DCF telling them if benefits have been added to their existing cards.
For children in families who do not receiving SNAP or TANF, DCF says that they will automatically be provided a new card.
If a child is ineligible for SNAP because of their immigration status, are they also ineligible for P-EBT?
No. P-EBT does not restrict eligibility based on immigration status. There is no citizenship requirement for free or reduced-price school meals and schools cannot reject a child because of their immigration status or require that students have a social security number to sign up. Nor will using P-EBT be considered in a public charge evaluation or affect a parent’s or child’s immigration status.
However, children who are ineligible for SNAP, TANF or Medicaid because of their immigration status will need to establish their eligibility for P-EBT another way if they are not in a school where all students get free meals or already enrolled for free or-reduced-price meals. Children can sign up for free or reduced-price meals through their school.
Is there a way to check if DCF has the correct address on file?
Families should double check the address on file through their online DCF MyACCESS or school account to ensure that P-EBT has their right address.
When can Floridians with eligible school children expect P-EBT benefits?
In Florida, P-EBT will be issued in three batches.
In April 2021, benefits will be distributed for the months of August 2020 through December 2020. For the months of January 2021 through March 2021, benefits will be issued in June 2021. The last installment is due to be issued in August 2021 for the months April 2021 through June 2021.
Florida’s issuance schedule is due, in part, to USDA’s suggestion that states issue benefits in installments to limit pressure on the supply chain and stagger distribution over several days to promote social distancing when redeeming benefits at the grocery store.
If a child is homeschooled are they eligible for P-EBT?
No. Children in families who do not attend a school participating in the free or reduced-price meals program are not eligible for P-EBT, even if the family receives SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid. This is because eligibility is tied to schools that would ordinarily be providing free or reduced-price meals to students but for the pandemic.
What if DCF makes a mistake concerning a child’s P-EBT?
DCF plans to use a web portal to allow households to report that a mistake has been made with their P-EBT. Individuals will also be able to report P-EBT problems through a call center if they are unable to access the web portal.
FNS even says that states are allowed to issue P-EBT benefits to households to correct a previous erroneous issuance. All that DCF has to do is confirm that the original issuance was made in error.
What if a family does not want P-EBT benefits?
Some families do not want P-EBT benefits even though their children may be automatically eligible. Although rare, this typically comes up in families with children who are in Community Eligibility Schools where all kids are deemed eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
This year, FNS has addressed that issue head on and says that P-EBT benefits cannot be given away or donated. FNS suggests that non-SNAP recipients destroy their card if they do not want P-EBT benefits that have been issued to their children. For SNAP recipients who do not want extra P-EBT for their eligible children FNS suggests contacting DCF.
When will DCF announce information about P-EBT for children in child care?
Although Florida Policy Institute remains hopeful that Florida will administer P-EBT for children in child care in 2020-2021, DCF has not yet announced its formal plan for roll out. Stay tuned for more details about the status of Florida’s plan for P-EBT for children in child care.