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 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. 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:
- 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.
PA DHS has more info here on how to activate your card, create a PIN, and use of your P–EBT 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.