June 10, 2020

Pandemic-EBT Will Put $114M in the Hands of MN Families—If We Can Get the Word Out

By Matt Shaver

This article was updated June 30 to reflect the increased per-child benefit and extended deadline. The deadline to apply was extended to July 31, and there are still about 150,000 remaining families that need to apply.

Have you heard of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT)? Probably not. The new food security program will put $114 million into the hands of 350,000 eligible Minnesota students. But there are countless families in need who have no idea this program is available to them.

Only 130,000 students whose families were already receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) will automatically get the funds. Meaning 220,000 students’ families still have to apply online before the end of the month. See why this is important?

Public promotion of this new program thus far is low. And with the school year at its end, we need to get the word out. So, let’s break through the silence to ensure every dollar is used and all eligible students in Minnesota get the funds they’ve been promised. This gap has to be filled in by effective communication from advocates, educators, elected leaders, the media, and community members.

What is P-EBT and why it is important?

P-EBT is modeled on a summer meals program that’s been used for many years. It’s designed to ensure families living with poverty can afford to eat during the summer when children do not have access to free meals at school. Eligible students may receive up to $425 per child for groceries while schools are closed.

With schools across the country closing in March due to COVID-19, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which allowed states to apply for various waivers to shift how meals were provided to students—including funding for pandemic-EBT. The first state approved for P-EBT was Michigan on March 28. Minnesota, disappointingly, applied much later—and was not approved until May 27. And that delay creates additional obstacles for Minnesota children and families.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, money should have already been deposited on May 30. Check your balance here.

Pretty simple, right? All set? Hang on … More families are eligible than those currently receiving SNAP benefits. But left as-is, there’s no automated way for families to receive the P-EBT dollars they’re eligible for.

Who is Eligible for P-EBT?

While the program’s eligibility rules are not that complicated, they’re easy to miss and potentially devastating for families in need if word does not get out to everyone who is eligible.

In Minnesota, families with students between 5- and 18-years-old are eligible if:

  • The family receives SNAP or MFIP benefits,
  • The student receives free and reduced-price meals (FRPM) at school, or
  • The student attends a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school.

Most families who qualify for FRPM also have SNAP—but not all. The income limits for SNAP are lower than those for FRPM. That means that there are some students who get reduced-price meals who absolutely qualify for P-EBT, but they cannot get the money automatically because their family is not on SNAP.

Told you it was a little complicated, but stick with me, you are doing great!

Getting P-EBT Benefits if You’re Not on SNAP

Eligible families who aren’t currently on SNAP must apply online before July 31. This is why we have to be crystal clear in our communication:

“The State estimates that it will issue $42.2 million to 130,000 students in SNAP households and $71.5 million to 220,000 students in non-SNAP households,” according to Minnesota’s application with USDA. This means that the majority of families who are eligible will need to apply online.

After a family is approved, they will receive a P-EBT card in the mail within ten days, loaded with $425 per child for groceries.

Families in CEP Schools that Do Not Have SNAP Need to Apply

Starting in 2014, USDA started implementing the CEP program, which allowed schools with more than 40% of their student population receiving FRPM to provide free meals for every student at the school. The CEP program simplified a ton of food issues in schools. (Goodbye, lunch shaming!) And around 150 schools in Minnesota are designated CEP.

Every student who attends a CEP school qualifies for P-EBT regardless of income. This is great and gets money into the hands of more families! The problem is many families do not know they’re eligible. And since school is ending for the summer, this leaves educators who would typically lead the charge for a program like this with little time to connect with families.

Families who have a student at a CEP school but do not have SNAP will need to apply online for the funds—and they should.

Even if a family that attends one of these schools is secure economically right now, they should still apply online, get the $425 and support their community by buying groceries for a food shelf. The money is available, and it will either be used or not; in these times we have to maximize the benefit!

How do you know if you send your child to a CEP school? Check out this handy list! Wondering who your elected representative is to raise awareness? Check out the 140-part mega-thread on Twitter I wrote (I’m not kidding), which has all of the relevant state legislators, city councilmembers, and school board members tagged by school.

There are more than 50,000 students in Minnesota who attend a CEP school, and millions of dollars in P-EBT are at stake. We have to communicate with stakeholders about what is available for families.

Overcoming Obstacles for Food Access

P-EBT is an objectively good thing for families most in need, and I need us to get really serious about making sure that each child who is deserving of this money gets what is owed to them. All we have to do is get loud enough for everyone to hear us.

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