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.

Congress has authorized states to distribute Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), a new benefit to help families whose children are missing free or reduced-price school meals due to virtual instruction.

For 2020-2021, this benefit will be available to families whose children attend an eligible school that has reduced its in-person instruction days. Pennsylvania will have to submit a new P-EBT distribution plan for this school year to the USDA for approval after that agency issues its P-EBT regulations. More specific information about which children will be eligible will be forthcoming.

Just Harvest can’t say for sure when the 2020-2021 benefits will be coming, the amount, or if the process for getting benefits will be different this time around. We are continuing to help eligible households that never received their 2019-2020 P-EBT benefits (see Q7).

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about this program for the 2019-2020 school year and the current school year (when possible). We will continue to post updates when we learn them.

Q1: What is Pandemic-EBT?

In April 2020, 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 but missing them due to school closures or a switch to virtual instruction. 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 on your fruits and vegetable purchases.

For the 2019-2020 school year, P-EBT was a one-time benefit distributed to households through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which is like a debit card.

Q2: Which families are eligible for P-EBT?

For the 2020-2021 school year:

Eligible children include:
  • School-age children who are eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Meals, which means enrolled at a school participating in the National School Lunch Program (more info below), and attending a school that has reduced the number of operating school days (either closed or operating under a hybrid model).
  • The extension also allows for the state to apply to provide P-EBT benefits to some children who attend a child care facility that provides meals through the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program if the child care center is closed or has reduced days or hours. The law says the child may also have to be receiving SNAP benefits, although there is other language that makes this somewhat unclear. USDA will have to clarify some of this before the state can submit a plan to cover these children. Just Harvest can’t say for certain that PA will provide P-EBT to these children, but we think they will, unless the USDA’s forthcoming rules make it impossible to do so.

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.

For the 2019-2020 school year:

Any Pennsylvania household with a student who was determined to be eligible for free or reduced-price meals should have automatically receive P-EBT. This means the student must have been 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 attended a school that offers free meals to all students were 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 was automatically signed up for P-EBT benefits. Parents did not need to submit any school meals/P-EBT applications for these students as they were 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 were themselves already enrolled in free and reduced price meals were automatically eligible for P-EBT. Parents did not need to submit any school meals/P-EBT applications for these students as they were 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 were 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 could be eligible if their program offered 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.

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

Income Limits for Reduced Price Meals for the 2020-2021 School Year and P-EBT
HOUSEHOLD SIZE YEARLY INCOME MONTHLY INCOME
1 $23,606 $1,968
2 $31,894 $2,658
3 $40,182 $3,349
4 $48,470 $4,040
5 $56,758 $4,730
6 $65,046 $5,421
7 $73,334 $6,112
8 $81,622 $6,802
Each additional family member +$8,288 +$691

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. For the 2019-2020 P-EBT benefit distribution, the school must have processed your school meals application by June 12, 2020 in order for you to qualify for benefits.

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

Households are to receive $5.70 per day per eligible child for each missed school day. States are allowed to simplify eligibility so they can provide a standard benefit amount instead of determining the precise number of missed school days for each child.

For the 2019-2020 school year:

  • If your child was receiving free or reduced-price meals when schools closed, you received $370.50 for each child.
  • If your child was determined eligible for free or reduced-price meals after schools closed, you received 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?

For the 2020-2021 school year:

Once you use up all your 2019-2020 benefits you should hold onto your P-EBT card, as that’s where the state will likely deposit additional benefits once they become available.

For the 2019-2020 school year:

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?

For the 2020-2021 school year:

We don’t have this info yet, but it may not be until 2021.

For the 2019-2020 school year:

As of Aug. 19: Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and Department of Education began issuing P-EBT benefits using information from schools in late May. They issued the benefits in phases; benefits are still being issued to those who never received them or received the wrong amount due to data errors. Regardless of what phase you’re in, you may receive the benefits at different times for different children. If you did not receive your eligible child’s P-EBT benefits or you received the wrong amount, please see Q7.

    1. Households that were receiving SNAP (food stamps) or TANF/cash assistance benefits when P-EBT disbursement started in May should already have received P-EBT benefits for children who were enrolled in free or reduced-price meals before schools closed. This phase ended in early June.
      • If you had an active EBT card for SNAP or TANF as of May, you should have received your child’s benefits on your card.
      • If you were receiving only Medical Assistance, you should have received a P-EBT card for any child who was eligible.
    2. In the second phase, the state mailed 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. If you were in this phase, you should have received your child’s card.
    3. In the third phase, households with students newly enrolled in free or reduced-price meals since the crisis started were sent their P-EBT cards. These cards started getting mailed on June 30. If you were in this phase, you should have received your child’s card.
    4. A fourth phase began in mid-July, when the state ordered additional cards (from their out-of-state manufacturer) for children who had not yet received a card due to missing or incorrect data.
      • 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. If your child’s benefits were delayed for this reason, you may not receive them until early September.
      • A number of SNAP households did not receive P-EBT benefits for their children due to a mismatch in data between school and the state Dept. of Human Services. If your child’s benefits were delayed for this reason, they should have posted to your account by now. 

Q7. I didn’t receive my child’s 2019-2020 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 who should fix your benefits within 3 weeks. You do not need to fill out the form more than once; doing so may delay the state’s response to you. 

For those without internet, PA Dept. of Human Services has set up a P-EBT hotline: 484-363-2137
Those who call should leave a message with:
  • names of your children
  • their dates of birth
  • the school and school district they attend
  • your phone number, email address, and mailing address
  • a brief description of the nature of the problem.

As you can imagine, this is an entirely new government program that was very difficult for the state to roll out quickly. There has been a lot of confusion and frustration among parents, so in addition to fixing data errors the state employees working on this program have also been responding to a lot of emails. You may only get a generic auto-reply when you fill out the survey, but please be assured that reporting the error will result in the state fixing 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.

For the 2019-2020 school year:

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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53 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.

    • Avatar
      Ngoc Truong August 14, 2020 at 11:46 am #

      Why I received the P-ebt card but my balance is $0.

      • Just Harvest
        Just Harvest August 20, 2020 at 5:02 pm #

        If the balance is $0 there are a couple possible reasons. 1) You tried to use the card without properly activating it first. Please refer to Q5 above on how to do that. 2) Your child is involved in a custody dispute and the benefits were removed for that reason. If neither of these are the case, you should follow the instructions in Q7.

  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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