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May 13, 2020
Big Solutions for a Big Crisis: Pandemic EBT

From the onset of the Covid-19 crisis Project Bread advocated at the state and federal level for Massachusetts to receive a waiver to operate Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), a crisis response nutrition program that helps feed children in low-income households.

The father who called our FoodSource Hotline last week was representative of thousands of households across the Commonwealth. Even as he has been able to continue working part-time, something for which he’s grateful, the money is not enough to cover the needs of his spouse and two children. This is especially so since the kids are no longer receiving the free school meals they had come to rely on even pre-coronavirus. As he told us, “it’s been tough these past weeks trying to make sure there’s enough to eat with everyone home.

While there are many ways the impact of COVID-19 has increased food insecurity in Massachusetts by a whopping 300%, school closures have significantly affected households that rely on free or reduced price meals to help feed children and make ends meet. Providing two nutritious meals every weekday not only helps these kids thrive, it allows money that would have been spent on food to go toward other necessities like rent or utilities.

That’s why Project Bread, from the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, advocated at the state and federal level for Massachusetts to receive a waiver to operate Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT). The program gives directly to households the amount that is usually spent on school meals, currently $5.70 per household per day. The funds are provided in the form of an EBT card (like a pre-paid gift card), or are simply added to an EBT card that some recipients already have for receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps). The card can be used at thousands of retailers.

Project Bread took on the role of informational hub for families, schools, and elected officials across the state once the Massachusetts’ P-EBT plan for operation was approved by the USDA, and our FoodSource Hotline is serving as the state’s hotline for P-EBT while the program rolls-out this spring.

Once the first distribution of benefits began on April 30th, the Hotline began fielding over 200 calls a day about P-EBT. Calls like those from the father mentioned above. He called in distress, but we were so happy to bring him the good news that P-EBT was on the way, and that it would be retroactive. His response? “Wow, thank you, this is awesome! I did not expect that the P-EBT benefits would take effect from when the kids stopped going to school. Thank you for explaining this all.”

Some other good news about P-EBT is that it is available to households regardless of immigration status, and not subject to the unjust public charge rule recently implemented (see here for more on public charge and Project Bread’s opposition to it), so undocumented residents are able to receive the funds as long as they meet the general conditions for eligibility.

P-EBT is also not a replacement of other benefits, but an addition. SNAP (food stamps) recipients can get P-EBT, and anyone who receives P-EBT can still use other resources like school meal sites.

All in all P-EBT is very good news for low-income households during this pandemic. As Project Bread's President Erin McAleer notes, “We know we need big solutions to solve a crisis of this size, and P-EBT is a great example. We applaud our leaders here in Massachusetts and the Department of Transitional Assistance for taking action so more than 500,000 kids can buy food that will help keep them healthy during the crisis.

If you or your household are enrolled in free or reduced price meals or attend a school where all students receive free school meals, you do not need to apply for P-EBT. If you are not currently enrolled in SNAP or receiving free or reduced-price school meals, but believe you may be eligible, please call Project Bread's FoodSource Hotline (1-800-645-8333) to explore your options.

View & Download: P-EBT Fact Sheet: For Partners/Providers

View & Download: P-EBT Fact Sheet: For Families 

Author(s): Project Bread

Filed under: Informing Public Policy, News and Events, Children and Schools, FoodSource, General, Poverty, For the Media