Program helps families who receive free, reduced-price school meals

More than 20,000 Big Island students could receive food assistance thanks to the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program.

Families with children who were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals during the last months of the 2019-20 academic year will receive temporary financial assistance for food because of school closures related to COVID-19.

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P-EBT is part of a food assistance plan approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, the state Department of Human Services said in a news release Monday.

The temporary assistance program will provide school meals replacement benefits to more than 93,000 students in Hawaii who receive free or reduced-price school meals, including nearly 48,000 already receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps.

According to the DHS, for each child enrolled in school, eligible families can receive $80 for March, $147 for April and $133 for May, or up to a combined $360 per child.

This is a one-time supplement, and the amount received will be based on when the eligible student was enrolled for free or reduced-price meals.

The funds will be distributed in two ways. Eligible SNAP households will have their benefits automatically deposited to their existing Kokua EBT card. The funds can also be used in Da Bux program.

Department spokeswoman Amanda Stevens said funding for the program comes from appropriations approved through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and is 100% federal funding provided by the USDA.

“The FFCRA appropriated funding for this program for the students who were affected by school closures this past school year,” she said. “If the program was to continue beyond last school year, then Congress would need to pass another appropriation bill to fund it, and schools would need to be closed if the same criteria were to be used.”

While DHS is still working on processing the records for payments, Stevens said approximately 21,000 Hawaii Island students would receive the benefits.

Students who receive free or reduced meals but do not receive SNAP benefits will automatically receive a Hawaii P-EBT card in the mail, DHS said.

The card will be issued under the name of the oldest student in the household, but benefits for all eligible students will be loaded onto the one card.

Households do not have to apply for the program. Notification letters will be sent to eligible students’ homes.

Those who think they have an eligible student in their household but do not receive P-EBT by July 20 should email hi.pebt@dhs.hawaii.gov.

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P-EBT follows the same rules as SNAP benefits and can be used where EBT payments are accepted.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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