By Jennifer Richardson
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly brought the people of Illinois many challenges. The impacts of a global pandemic have created opportunities for us all to work together, as well as helping us all see how our lives and collective health are connected. One of the programs that is being offered to Illinois families is called the P-EBT Benefit, and it aims to assist Illinois K-12 students with money for food.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) is a temporary food-benefit program. Program funds arrive in the form of a white, plastic debit card that is loaded each month with food money. Beginning in March these cards will be arriving at the homes of eligible students, addressed to the student.
The Illinois Department of Human Services website provides information about the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer card and helps students and families understand how the program works. According to this United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved plan, the P-EBT provides benefits to all eligible students–there is no need to apply.
According to the IDHS, P-EBT benefits will automatically be issued to families with eligible children for the 2020-2021 school year, as long as they meet the following eligibility guidelines:
* Must be enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals at a school operating the National School Lunch Program; OR,
* Must be enrolled in a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which offers breakfast and lunch free to all students; AND,
* Must be without access to an in-school provided meal.
* Must operate the National School Lunch Program; AND,
* Must have been closed or operating remote learning for at least 5 consecutive days at some point during the 2020-2021 School Year.
IDHS reports that they have been working closely with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to ensure names of eligible students are issued P-EBT cards in a timely manner. P-EBT provides benefits for days that students are remote learning, but without being offered a meal at school, or are home for an approved COVID-related absence. P-EBT provides $6.82 per meal for the 2020/2021 school year.
Please note that if you are unsure about the free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch program, or you have questions regarding your school’s participation please visit the ISBE website at www.isbe.net/pebt.
If your child is already enrolled to receive free or reduced-price school meals AND your address is up to date: Each month, your child will automatically get P-EBT funds for each eligible P-EBT day. Cards will arrive in an unmarked envelope so please be on the lookout. Keep that card, as any future P-EBT benefits will be loaded to that card for each student.
* In March 2021, families will receive a distribution for the months of August 2020 through December 2020.
* In April 2021, families will receive a distribution for January 2021 through March 2021.
* Beginning in May 2021, families will receive a monthly benefit for the remainder of the school year.
* Benefits will be issued between the 11th to the 22nd of each month going by the first letter of the student’s last name. Students’ benefits will be issued on the same day in subsequent months so families can plan their food budget.
P-EBT benefits are supposed to replace the meals that students receive in person at the school. However, even if your child is attending school in-person every day and is consuming their meals at school, they could still be eligible for the program for time periods when they were quarantined, or when the schools were fully remote, or operating with a hybrid learning model for a temporary time period.
Your student can receive a benefit amount based on the number of days that they are without access to a meal at school.
If you have not received your card by the last day of March 2021, you may call the toll-free P-EBT Helpline number at 1-833-621-0737 to ask for assistance. You are not required to use the funds on your P-EBT card but unused funds will be removed from the card after one year.
I have heard many inspiring stories of people working from a distance, yet in concert, to be sure people have their basic needs met during these amazing times. As we all weather the storm that is COVID-19, let’s help each other to find the resources we need to get through this together.