BATON ROUGE – Louisiana has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help feed as many as 611,430 students during the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced today.
Under the new Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program, families of children who normally receive free or reduced-price meals at school may get financial assistance to replace those meals. All Louisiana public school and many non-public school facilities have been closed since March 16 because of the pandemic.
P-EBT benefits will be provided to households that apply if they include children who were in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals, according to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) and the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). These benefits are intended to cover 50 school days, from the onset of statewide school facility closures through the end of the 2019-20 academic year.
“This might be the only way some of our most vulnerable children can obtain a nutritious breakfast or lunch,” Governor John Bel Edwards said. “They used to receive these meals at school, and now Louisiana can provide that benefit at home, too.”
“Louisiana is grateful to Congress, President Donald Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for making this benefit available and speeding its implementation,” Edwards said. “We look forward to feeding Louisiana families in these trying times.”
Louisiana had an estimated 611,430 children eligible for free and reduced-price breakfast or lunch this spring. That’s about 85 percent of all students in prekindergarten through grade 12.
“Schools do more than educate our children; they also provide them with healthy, nutritious meals. With school facilities closed for the duration of the school year, students cannot access these meals,” said acting State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux. “School systems have stepped up to ensure no child in their community goes hungry, and the approval announced today provides in-need families with even greater security. We appreciate the leadership of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services to make that possible.”
The P-EBT benefit amounts to $5.70 per day per child. That’s $285 for the 50 days, the same as the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs reimbursement rates. Louisiana officials estimate the state could distribute almost $174.3 million via P-EBT.
“What’s important for parents to know is that P-EBT benefits are available to any family with children who received free or reduced-price meals at a school closed by the pandemic,” said DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters. “Some of these families are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program; others are not. We want to make all families whose children received free or reduced-price meals aware of the program and how they can apply for the benefits.”
Local school systems will notify families that they might be eligible for P-EBT. The families must then apply if they wish to receive the benefits. The application will be available in a P-EBT portal on the LDE website. The portal opens May 18, and the deadline to apply is June 7. State officials expect considerable interest in the program and ask applicants to be patient in trying to access the portal.
Once the child’s information is verified, DCFS will mail a P-EBT debit card loaded with $285 per child, and instructions for using the card. State officials expect to begin mailing cards May 26. Benefits will be available for 365 days.
The cards may be used at any store that accepts SNAP to buy SNAP-eligible food items.
Many Louisiana public schools already are providing emergency or “grab and go” meals to children regardless of the child’s enrollment, family size or income, after receiving emergency permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The new P-EBT benefits do not preclude students from continuing to access those meals.
The P-EBT program was authorized by Congress in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020. In obtaining federal approval for P-EBT, Louisiana joins more than 22 other states participating in the program.