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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Strong

Pandemic EBT Approved for NYC

The USDA has approved the New Benefits Program (Pandemic EBT) for students in New York State to purchase food, which is great news for our community, since COVID has hit New York City families hard—particularly low-income black and brown families—and hunger is surging.

A poll released by Hunger Free America found that among adults, 24 percent skipped meals or cut portions because they lacked enough money for food. That’s about two and a half times the adult hunger rate of 2018. The poll also found that child hunger is soaring across America, with 37 percent of parents nationwide cutting the size of meals or skipping meals for their children because they did not have enough money for food in the last month. Advocates said this hike hunger is due to the combined loss of tens of millions of school meals each day coupled with a massive reduction in jobs and income for parents.

What is Pandemic EBT

If you haven't hear about Pandemic EBT yet, here's the deal. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 allows states to apply for Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)—essentially money for meals children would have received free or reduced price meals under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, if not for the school closure. Any state in which a school is closed for at least five consecutive days due to a public health emergency such as COVID-19, can apply for P-EBT. The program is available to families regardless of immigration status.

Several states including Kansas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Michigan. Massachusetts, Illinois, North Carolina, and Rhode Island have been approved, and today New York State joins their ranks.

A key difference for New York City is that since it has qualified for Community Eligibility (CEP), or universal free lunch for all children in public school regardless of income, all 1.1 million children enrolled in public school in New York City —including undocumented students—are now eligible to receive an additional $5.70 for every day school has been closed (72 total days) to purchase foods available through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Do I need to Apply for P-EBT?

No. If you already receive SNAP, this P-EBT money will automatically be added to your card. If you do not already receive SNAP, you do not need to apply; you will be mailed a temporary card with money on it for your eligible children.

How Will Benefits Be Distributed?

The NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) will distribute benefits to students who already participate in SNAP or receive Public Assistance (PA) starting the last two weeks of May. These students have EBT accounts on a Common Benefit Identification Card (CBIC), allowing OTDA to provide P-EBT benefits automatically. Children using Medicaid will receive P-EBT once OTDA creates an EBT account on their existing CBIC. 

For the more than 300,000 students not currently participating in SNAP, PA, or Medicaid, the process will extend into July and August. (Many of these students are New York City students, eligible because the school district has universal free school meals, also called Community Eligibility Provision.) OTDA must create new files for these students through a web service with limited capacity, and then issue new cards. 

This month, families will start to receive benefits for the 34 days that schools were closed in March and April. In total, students will receive benefits for the 74 days schools are closed, from March 16 through June 25, 2020.  The Tisch Food Center, and other advocates like Hunger-Free America and more, are pushing Congress to expand this benefit through the summer until schools resume next fall. Stay tuned on that.

New York State expects to distribute nearly $718 million in P-EBT benefits.  Every dollar spent through EBT generates $1.50 in economic activity, making such benefits one of the most effective economic supports during a downturn, according to the Congressional Budget Office and Moody’s. 

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