FAQ about Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) in Pennsylvania

Students enjoy the new school lunch at Yorkshire Elementary School in Manassas, VA on Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 (USDA photo by Lance) Cheung.

Pennsylvania has now received approval from the USDA to provide Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), a new benefit to help families whose children are missing school meals.

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about this program. This post was updated on July 9 with new info on where P-EBT benefits can be used (Q1), what to do about a lost card (Q5), and the revised timeline for receiving your child’s P-EBT card if you are still waiting (Q6).

Q1: What is Pandemic-EBT?

The Family’s First Coronavirus Response Act authorized a new benefit called Pandemic EBT to help families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. The benefit will come on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which is like a debit card. The benefits can only be spent on food items at any store that accepts SNAP (“food stamps”) and at Fresh Access farmers markets in Allegheny County, where you can also receive Food Bucks as a dollar-for-dollar incentive on your purchases. P-EBT is a one-time payment that aims to help parents afford food for children who could be receiving free or reduced-price school meals if their school were open.

Q2: Which families are eligible for P-EBT?

Any Pennsylvania household with a student who is determined to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals will automatically receive P-EBT. This means the student must be enrolled at a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). NSLP funds free and reduced-price meals in public schools and in certain charter schools, nonprofit private schools, residential care facilities, and preK programs. To see if your child’s school participates in NSLP, check this list.

  • Students who attend a school that offers free meals to all students are automatically eligible, regardless of income. These are schools that participate in the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP, which allows schools in high-poverty areas to provide free school meals to all students without requiring an application. Many public and charter schools in Allegheny County are CEP schools. If your child’s school participates in CEP then your child will be automatically signed up for P-EBT benefits. Parents do not need to submit any school meals/P-EBT applications for these students as they are already enrolled. If you’re not sure whether your child’ school has “community eligibility” for free school meals you should contact them and ask.
  • Students at schools that don’t have community eligibility but who are themselves already enrolled in free and reduced price meals are automatically eligible for P-EBT. Parents do not need to submit any school meals/P-EBT applications for these students as they are already enrolled.
  • Students in families that recently lost income due to job loss or fewer hours can still apply for free or reduced-price meals through their school or through the state and then receive P-EBT. (See Q3.)
  • Students are eligible regardless of immigration status. Receiving or using this benefit does not impact the student’s or any household member’s immigration status or any current or future application for permanent residency.
  • PreK students can be eligible if their program offers free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Note: Usually, only preK programs that are tied to a school district participate in NSLP. Most preK and Head Start programs that provide meals do so through a different program. If you’re not sure, contact your PreK/Head Start program to ask.

Students who are not enrolled in a school that offers free and reduced price meals, such as cyber schools, for-profit private schools, and those who are homeschooled, are not eligible for P-EBT.

Q3: What if my children were not signed up for free or reduced-price school meals during the school year?

Income Limits for Reduced Price Meals for the 2019-2020 School Year and P-EBT
HOUSEHOLD SIZEYEARLY INCOMEMONTHLY INCOME
1$23,107$1,926
2$31,284$2,607
3$39,461$3,289
4$47,638$3,970
5$55,815$4,652
6$63,992$5,333
7$72,169$6,015
8$80,346$6,696
Each additional family member+$8,177+$682

If your child was eligible for free or reduced-price meals at their school prior to the pandemic but wasn’t signed up for them, or if your income has changed and you now meet the income guidelines, then you must apply for free and reduced-price school meals in order to get P-EBT. (You can check the income guidelines table for reduced-price school meals on this page.) Your child’s school must participate in the National School Lunch Program for your child to apply. To see if your child’s school participates in NSLP, check this list.

Your school can tell you how to apply for free or reduced-price meals in order to get P-EBT benefits. Many schools have a simple one-page or online school meals application available. You can also apply for both the National School Lunch Program and for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online through COMPASS, Pennsylvania’s online application system. The school must have processed your school meals application by June 12 in order for you to receive any benefit.

Q4: How much in P-EBT benefits will I receive?

Households will receive $5.70 per day per child for each missed school day.

  • If your child was receiving free or reduced-price meals when schools closed, you will receive $370.50 for each child.
  • If your child was determined eligible for free or reduced-price meals after schools closed, you will receive a pro-rated amount for the number of weekdays from the first of the month in which the child was determined eligible to the end of the year. For instance:
    • If determined eligible during April, you would receive $302.10 to cover the period from April 1 through June 12.
    • If determined eligible during May, you would receive $176.70 to cover the period from May 1 through June 12.

Q5: How will I get the P-EBT benefits?

If you are currently receiving SNAP (Food Stamps) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF/cash assistance) benefits, the state will try to match the info your school has for your child with your benefits case. They will then deposit onto your current EBT card the Pandemic-EBT amount for each student who is eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

If you do not already have an EBT card, you will receive a P-EBT card in the mail with instructions on how to use it. In order for you to receive a P-EBT card your school must have your current address! If you think a card was mailed to the wrong address, or you lost the card your received, fill out this form and a new card can be re-issued.

To activate your card:

Enter in all of the numbers on the front of your card.
When it asks for the last four digits of your Social Security number, instead enter in the last four digits of your zip code. For example, if your zip code is 15219, you would enter in 5219.
For the birth date:
  • If the card is in your name, enter your oldest school-age child’s birth date. BUT sometimes it is a different child’s birth date, so if your oldest child’s birth date doesn’t work, try the birth dates for all of your children. If it’s not your oldest child’s birth date, you should be getting a separate card for your other child(ren).
  • If the card is in a child’s name, enter in their birth date.
Then you will be asked to pick your PIN and confirm it. Make sure you hear a message that says a PIN has been successfully selected.

PA DHS has more info here on how to activate your card, create a PIN, and use of your PEBT card. If you are having trouble completing these steps to activate your card, it could be an error with the phone system and it being overwhelmed. Try activating your card at an off-peak hour, like later at night.

Q6: When will I get my P-EBT benefits?

Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Education began issuing P-EBT benefits using information from schools in late May. They are issuing the benefits in phases. Regardless of what phase you’re in, you may receive the benefits at different times for different children.

  1. Households that were receiving SNAP (food stamps) or TANF cash assistance benefits as of then should already have been issued P-EBT benefits for children who were enrolled in free or reduced-price meals before schools closed. This phase was due to continue through June 3.
    • If you have an active EBT card for SNAP or TANF and did not receive your eligible child(ren)’s P-EBT benefits, contact the PA Dept. of Human Services at RA-PWPEBTQuestions@pa.gov to log this error. Provide your DHS case record number, the names of your children, the names of the school and school district they attend, and if they were receiving free/reduced price school meals when schools closed. We have also asked DHS to make a phone number available to help people reach them with any questions, and will post that here if they do.
    • If you are currently receiving only Medical Assistance, your information was sent to the company that makes EBT cards (Conduent) by June 5 at the latest. DHS has told us that since this is a very large number of families, it may take up to two weeks for all of the cards to be made and mailed. Conduent is located out of state, so that will take more time to reach you by mail. If you do not receive a card by June 27, report a problem to DHS using the contact information in Question 7 below.
  2. In the second phase, the state will mail P-EBT cards to other households with students who were enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals prior to this crisis. The state began this phase June 8, and has informed us that the card maker mailed out the last cards from their facility on June 22. Normally they arrive within 7-10 days and should have arrived by now.
  3. In the third phase, households with students newly enrolled in free or reduced-price meals since the crisis started will be sent their P-EBT cards. These cards started getting mailed on June 30. Just Harvest estimates that they may not arrive until July 15.
  4. The state has informed us that there will be a fourth phase beginning July 13, when they will be sending an additional batch of info to their cardmaker for children who have not yet received a card due to missing data. Apparently a small number of schools were very late in submitting all of their students’ info to the PA Dept. of Education. This may be why you received benefits for one child but not another, even if they are both in the same school district or possibly even the same school. Parents likely won’t receive these cards until late July.

Q7. I didn’t receive my P-EBT benefits in the time-frame laid out in Q6, or I got the wrong amount.  What should I do?

Fill out the online form at www.emergencymealsurvey.com/PA. This form will send your information to a team of workers at the PA Dept. of Human Services. If you prefer, you can instead e-mail them at RA-PWPEBTQuestions@pa.gov. If you email them, provide:

  • the names of your children;
  • the names of the school and school district they attend;
  • when they began to receive free/reduced price school meals (before schools closed, or if you applied for school meals after schools closed); and
  • if you receive food stamps, Medical Assistance, or TANF cash assistance, your DHS case record number.

As you can imagine, this is a new program that is very difficult to roll out quickly. There have been some errors and a lot of confusion among parents, so the state is getting lots of questions. You may only get a generic reply to your email, but reporting the error is still important so that they’re sure to fix it. If you continue to experience problems, you can email our policy advocate Ann Sanders at anns@justharvest.org.

Q8: What if I’ve moved since the beginning of the school year?

Notify your school of your address change, as that is the address that the state will use to mail out the P-EBT cards. If you are already receiving other DHS benefits, you should report your change of address by calling the statewide customer service center at 1-877-395-8930 or, in Philadelphia, at (215) 560-7226. (Note: call times are longer than usual due to the current crisis. Please be patient.)

Q9: Will receiving P-EBT benefits affect my eligibility for other benefits?

No, it will not, and other benefits will not affect your eligibility for P-EBT.

Q10: My child attends a school where all students are automatically eligible for free meals (“community eligibility”), but we don’t financially need P-EBT.

The state will still automatically send you a P-EBT card and allow you to use it for your family. The economy is very uncertain, so you can hold onto the card in case you need it months from now. The state will take back any unused benefits after 6 months. This benefit cannot be transferred to others, so you cannot use this benefit to buy food for others. But you can buy food for your kids using this card and then donate the money you saved on groceries to charity or to help others in need if you wish.

Q11. Will families receiving Grab and Go meals through school districts be eligible? Will those districts stop that service?

P-EBT doesn’t require schools to stop serving Grab & Go meals. This benefit is an additional nutritional resource, not a replacement; families can get both.

Further questions? Please review the comments below to see if your question has already been asked and answered. If not, contact Ann Sanders at anns@justharvest.org or post them in the comments below; you will receive a response by email. If you live in Philadelphia you can contact Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger for more info (Kathy Fisher, kfisher@hungercoalition.org). We thank the Coalition for their contributions to this info.

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51 Responses to FAQ about Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) in Pennsylvania

  1. Avatar
    Ashley May 10, 2020 at 6:05 am #

    My child is homeschooled she is 17 will she still be eligible

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 11, 2020 at 2:34 pm #

      No. Your child would have to attend a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program. P-EBT is compensation for the loss of those meals.

  2. Avatar
    Susan G Parno May 11, 2020 at 10:13 am #

    Is the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) FAQ sheet available in Spanish?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 11, 2020 at 2:26 pm #

      Thanks for asking. https://www.justharvest.org/spanish-pandemicebt-faq/

      • Avatar
        Donna H. May 12, 2020 at 10:45 am #

        I dont have a EBT card. How do I apply for the P-EBT card? Both my sons attend Pittsburgh public school.

        • Just Harvest
          Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 7:42 pm #

          You don’t need to apply. PPS is a “community eligibility” (CEP) district so all students enrolled there will receive P-EBT automatically because all PPS students are automatically eligible for free school meals. Since you don’t have an EBT card already the state will send you a P-EBT card with benefits for both of your sons.

  3. Avatar
    Joanna Peck May 11, 2020 at 3:05 pm #

    What about private school children? Do they need to apply to SNAP?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 1:28 pm #

      P-EBT is compensation for lost free or reduced price school meals provided by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Students are only eligible for P-EBT if their school participates in NSLP, which is only offered at public schools, nonprofit private schools, residential care facilities and some preK programs. If you’re uncertain whether your school qualifies you would need to contact them. If your school qualifies but your child wasn’t receiving free or reduced price school meals before, and you think you might qualify now, please refer to the income guidelines above and Q3 on how to apply. Applying for SNAP is a separate process and doesn’t affect eligibility for P-EBT. Here is info on SNAP eligibility and how to apply: https://www.justharvest.org/get-help/snap-food-stamps/

  4. Avatar
    Rachel May 11, 2020 at 4:17 pm #

    I have two kids in public school that were receiving free meals, one child in public school that is totally gtube fed so not receiving meals, and two kids in private schools. Will all five of my kids get the EBT card since we are a household that qualifies or only the two kids that were actually getting the free meals?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 1:46 pm #

      Does the private school participate in the National School Lunch Program? If so, you could apply for your children to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals and then get P-EBT benefits for them. Otherwise, it would just be the two students in public schools that had been receiving free meals.

    • Avatar
      Barbra Fitzgerald May 19, 2020 at 5:24 pm #

      Are dates available yet for deposit? The information given states within 15 days of May 6th. Is that business days or just 15 straight days? I currently have an open EBT case with.a Child who received Free breakfast/ lunch due to income. Our district does participate in the necessary program to qualify. Thank you.

      • Just Harvest
        Just Harvest May 20, 2020 at 12:04 pm #

        It is within 15 straight days — by May 22 — that the state will begin to issue P-EBT benefits to people with SNAP or TANF EBT cards whose children are enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals.

    • Avatar
      Julia Bergener May 24, 2020 at 6:08 pm #

      This is greatly appreciated, thank you. My son has special needs and will be attending ESY in July. Will there be additional benefits for that time period?

  5. Avatar
    Jamie Braum May 11, 2020 at 4:35 pm #

    What if we live in Clairton ( a city whose school is eligible) but they go to Propel (a charter school in McKeesport)?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 12:30 pm #

      Propel Schools participate in the Community Eligibility Provision — all students at Propel schools are eligible for free school meals regardless of income. So you will automatically receive a P-EBT card with benefits for your child(ren) enrolled at Propel.

  6. Avatar
    Amirah Shepard May 11, 2020 at 5:13 pm #

    I didn’t see Philadelphia or Delaware county on the list.

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 12:34 pm #

      We operate in Allegheny County and don’t know which schools in other counties have the Community Eligibility Provision (by which all students receive free school meals regardless of income). For Philadelphia you can contact Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger for more info: Kathy Fisher, kfisher@hungercoalition.org

  7. Avatar
    Helaine Summers May 11, 2020 at 5:19 pm #

    Where do you apply for Pandemic EBT?

  8. Avatar
    Jen Simcox May 11, 2020 at 8:43 pm #

    My 4yr old attends early Headstart and received breakfast and lunch, will he qualify?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 1:19 pm #

      You would have to ask if your Head Start is using the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or the Child and Adult Congregate Feeding Program (CACFP) to fund their free or reduced-price meals. Only children attending a school that participates in NSLP are eligible for P-EBT. Most Head Starts use CACFP unless they are tied to a school district.

  9. Avatar
    Chris May 11, 2020 at 9:05 pm #

    When will PA get these?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 12:48 pm #

      Please see Q6 above.

      • Avatar
        Brianna May 13, 2020 at 7:50 pm #

        What if you have a special needs child that still attends school. He is 19 tho?

  10. Avatar
    Cheron May 11, 2020 at 10:43 pm #

    I already received DHS benefits, will the P-Ebt be added to my regular DHS card or will they be sending out a separate card.

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 12:39 pm #

      If the DHS benefits you receive are SNAP benefits (food stamps) it will be added to that card. If the benefits are for medical assistance, you will be sent a separate P-EBT card.

  11. Avatar
    Kim May 12, 2020 at 8:45 am #

    Hello, what if your child attends cyber school?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 1:30 pm #

      P-EBT is compensation for lost free or reduced price school meals provided by the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Students are only eligible for P-EBT if their school participates in NSLP, which is only offered at public schools, nonprofit private schools, residential care facilities, and some preK programs.

  12. Avatar
    Khaleedah N Harris May 12, 2020 at 11:02 am #

    Does this apply for those already receiving benefits, including the maximum for their households?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 12, 2020 at 12:42 pm #

      Yes — parents will receive P-EBT benefits for their eligible children regardless of any other benefits they are receiving.

  13. Avatar
    Takima Hubbard May 15, 2020 at 2:09 am #

    I have one child in public and 2 in charter school and all were signed up for free lunch but I only received benefits for 1. What do I do

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 18, 2020 at 5:30 pm #

      If you are receiving SNAP or TANF benefits then it’s possible the state was able to match your one child with your account and so their P-EBT benefits were deposited on your EBT card, but perhaps the charter school wasn’t running data matches, or may have their information in such a way that the state couldn’t match your children with your SNAP account. If so, a card should be mailed to you for your other two children in the coming weeks. You can check with your charter school just to make sure they have a correct address for you on file and are regularly sending information to the state.
      It could also just be that the state is processing benefits in chunks by school, so the public school’s students were processed before the charter school just by chance.

  14. Just Harvest
    Just Harvest May 15, 2020 at 6:14 pm #

    There is no age limit for P-EBT.

  15. Avatar
    Melissa May 15, 2020 at 8:47 pm #

    What benefit do you apply for on the Compass application? I don’t see P-EBT as a choice.

    Thanks!

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 15, 2020 at 9:01 pm #

      You need to apply for Free or Reduced-Price School Meals. Once you are found eligible for those you will be sent a P-EBT card.

      • Avatar
        Tiffany Ducker May 18, 2020 at 11:59 pm #

        What if you rec’d a letter at the beginning of the school year stating your child will be free lunch, do u still have to apply for P-EBT?

  16. Avatar
    Emily May 15, 2020 at 8:56 pm #

    Is there a Nepali version of this information?

  17. Avatar
    Cecilia May 19, 2020 at 6:20 pm #

    Hello ! I didn’t recive any help , please When can I apply for help , Snap or EBT Card , I have 2 kids

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 19, 2020 at 7:18 pm #

      If we don’t answer your question here it’s because we’ve sent you an email. Cecilia, we sent an email to your hotmail address on May 15.

  18. Avatar
    Rae May 20, 2020 at 6:08 pm #

    After I receive the P-EBT benefits, will i still get my full amount of regular monthly food stamps on June 1st as well?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 22, 2020 at 11:08 am #

      Yes, P-EBT benefits do not affect your eligibility or benefit amount for other assistance programs.

  19. Avatar
    Joe May 24, 2020 at 12:52 pm #

    Thank you for posting this and the update. Hunger isn’t political and I appreciate what you’re doing.

  20. Avatar
    Holly D May 28, 2020 at 1:00 pm #

    I have 4 children that have been receiving free lunch for few years. Today the pebt was added to my card but it does not equal what is stated above, seems like only 2 of my kids got it. How do I get it corrected?

    • Just Harvest
      Just Harvest May 28, 2020 at 3:35 pm #

      If the children you didn’t receive benefits for goes to a different school, that could be why — just a difference in when the schools are processing these. You should receive these benefits on your EBT card before June 2.

      If they all go to the same school, that sounds more like a processing error. You should contact the PA Dept. of Human Services: RA-PWPEBTQuestions@pa.gov.

      • Avatar
        Holly May 28, 2020 at 11:37 pm #

        2 are elementary and 1 high school and 1 votech school. So maybe only the elementary posted. 🤔 thanks

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