By STACY FERNÁNDEZ
The Texas Tribune
Texas families who fit the category of low-income can apply for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer. The program offers $285 per child in federal aid to help supplement that meals they provided their children while schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The funding is provided to make up for the free and reduced-price meals they missed. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission on Monday extended the deadline for applying to July 31.
The Pandemic EBT program began accepting applications June 2. State data has shown that the greatest number of eligible families who have not yet applied reside in Dallas, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. This unclaimed food aid represents missed meals for children and missed economic activity for local food retailers.
“As of last week, only 70% of eligible families had applied for this important benefit,” said Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas. “That means there is roughly $300 million in federal food aid at risk of being left on the table.”
Families that were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in March don’t need to apply for the program. These benefits were automatically deposited on their Lone Star Card in early June.
Other families, including those that enrolled in SNAP after March, will still need to apply.
Who is eligible?
Schoolchildren up to 21 years old who received free or reduced-priced meals at school this school year are eligible for the program.
Although families who receive SNAP automatically got benefits for children 5 to 18 years old, they also have through July 31 to apply for benefits if they have eligible children under 5 years old or between the ages of 19 and 21.
Infants and toddlers are not eligible. If Congress were to pass the HEROES Act – another multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill – toddlers would be eligible, and benefits would extend through the summer, according to Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst with Every Texan, a left-leaning think tank previously known as the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
How much do families get?
This is a one-time payment. Once approved, families will get one Texas Pandemic-EBT card in the mail preloaded with funds. The card works just like a debit card but can only be used for food.
Pandemic-EBT follows the same rules as SNAP. Families can’t use either benefit for hot and prepared food, like a hot sandwich meant to be eaten immediately, alcohol or tobacco products. Benefits cannot be used at restaurants.
How to apply
School districts should have sent out a link to the application in the first week of June. Parents and guardians will fill out details like the child’s name, address and school ID, Cooper said.
Families can learn more about applying by calling a state hotline weekdays at 833-613-6220, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. or visit https://www.dallasisd.org/childnutrition. The webpage also contains information on the Grab-and-Go lunch program.
When are benefits available?
Families should get their Pandemic-EBT cards in the mail within 7 to 10 days of submitting their applications as long as the information provided on the online application matches the records submitted by the Texas Education Agency and Texas Department of Agriculture.
If the information doesn’t match, officials will follow up with both departments, which may delay when a family gets its card, said Elliott Sprehe, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the department that oversees Pandemic-EBT.
The commission said it will process orders as they come in, once it has a list of the children who get free or reduced-price school meals.
Unused benefits expire after a year.
Does Pandemic-EBT affect other benefits?
No. The school meal benefit will not affect eligibility for other benefits.
What if the school district has continued to provide meals?
These families are still eligible. Pandemic-EBT is an additional benefit, not a replacement for programs like grab-and-go school meals or summer meals.
Children who attend day care
If the child attends Head Start or a pre-K program that participates in the National School Lunch Program, they are eligible for the food benefits program.
Children who attend charter and private schools
These families are still eligible as long as the school provided meals through the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Programs.
Do you have to be a citizen?
No, any child is eligible for the program, regardless of their immigration status or that of their caregiver.
While immigrant families may worry that applying for benefits will hurt their chances to become legal residents under the public charge rule – which penalizes immigrants who’ve used public benefits for a certain period of time – Pandemic-EBT does not count toward that rule.
Meena Venkataramanan contributed to this report. Additional information obtained from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service and Feed America.
Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities, now called Every Texan, has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article was first published at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/05/28/texas-free-reduced-lunch-snap-ebt/ by The Texas Tribune.