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 May 27 with corrected info on the timeline for disbursement (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”). 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. If you’re not sure whether your child’s school participates in the National School Lunch Program, you should ask your school.
- 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 SIZE||YEARLY INCOME||MONTHLY INCOME|
|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.
Your school can tell you how to apply. Many schools have a simple one-page or online school meals applications 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.
If you’re not sure whether your child’s school participates in the National School Lunch Program, you should ask your school. Once you have this info, if you live in Allegheny County and need help completing a school meals application on COMPASS, Just Harvest can assist you. Leave your name and contact info and the best time to reach you Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at (412) 431-8960 x602 or by filling out the form on this page. Our team is working from home and our response time may be slower than usual, but we aim to get back to you within 48 hours.
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 EBT card?
If you are currently receiving SNAP (Food Stamps) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF/cash assistance) benefits, the state will deposit onto your current EBT card the Pandemic-EBT amount for each student who is certified 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!
Q6: When will I get my P-EBT?
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Education announced they will begin to issue P-EBT benefits using information from schools within approximately 15 days of plan approval (which occurred May 6). They are issuing the benefits in phases.
- Households that are already getting SNAP (food stamps), Medical Assistance, or TANF Cash Assistance have begun to receive P-EBT benefits for children who were already receiving free or reduced-price meals or who attend a school with “community eligibility” (CEP). This phase will continue until June 1, and households may receive the benefits at different times for children in different schools.
- In the second phase, starting the week of June 1, the state will mail P-EBT cards to other households with students who were receiving free or reduced-price school meals prior to this crisis, or who attend a CEP school.
- In the third phase, likely in late June, households with students newly enrolled in free or reduced-price meals since the crisis started will be sent their P-EBT cards.
Q7: 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.)
Q8: 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.
Q9: My child attends a school where all students receive free meals, but we don’t financially need this benefit.
The state will still automatically send you this benefit and allow you to use it for your family. The economy is very uncertain, so you can hold onto the EBT 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.
Q10. 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.