USDA extends meal assistance program to cover 30 million children this summer

Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images

Both school-aged children and children in daycare are eligible

If there was any question that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would expand its recent additions to school and daycare meals to help children out this summer, there’s not any longer. On Monday, the agency announced a major effort to provide a lifeline to more than 30 million children by expanding Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits at a time when families are struggling to put food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only children are eligible for this temporary nutrition benefit -- and only those who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year or are under age six and live in a SNAP household can apply. Families of eligible children typically receive $6.82 per child per weekday, or roughly $375 per child over the summer months. The benefits will be loaded onto an EBT card that can be used to purchase food.

“The expansion of P-EBT benefits over the summer is a first-of-its-kind, game-changing intervention to reduce child hunger in the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By providing low-income families with a simple benefit over the summer months, USDA is using an evidenced-based solution to drive down hunger and ensure no child has to miss a meal.”

How the program works

Parents of potentially qualified children will likely have some questions about how this program works. ConsumerAffairs took a look into the details to find answers to the more commonly asked questions.

Who’s eligible? All school children who would have received free or reduced-price school meals at school under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or School Breakfast Program (SBP) are eligible for P-EBT benefits this summer. This includes:

  • School children who received P-EBT benefits during the last month of the 2020-2021 school year. The USDA says children who graduate at the end of the school year are also eligible because the covered summer period is an extension of the school year.

  • School children who were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals under the NSLP and SBP in the 2020/2021 school year but did not receive P-EBT benefits in the last month of the school year because they attended school in-person and benefitted from a free or reduced-price meal service at school.

What about children in daycare? Children in daycare are also eligible to receive benefits. The USDA says children falling under the following categories can take advantage of meal assistance: 

  • SNAP-enrolled children who received P-EBT child care benefits in the last month of the school year.

  • SNAP-enrolled children who would have received P-EBT child care benefits in the last month of the school year but didn’t because their child care facility was not closed or operating at reduced attendance or hours during that month. This also includes children whose residence was in the area of a school that was closed or operating at reduced attendance or hours in that month.

  • SNAP-enrolled children who are born before the end of the covered summer period are also eligible for P-EBT benefits for the entire covered summer period.

How long is the covered summer period? The summer period will be a maximum of 90 calendar days. 

How many P-EBT benefit days are in the covered summer period? The number of P-EBT benefit days is not 90 total; it equals the number of weekdays during the covered summer period. In preparing the plan, the USDA reviewed publicly available summer 2021 calendars for the two largest districts in every state and found that the median length of these districts’ summer breaks, excluding weekends, is 55 weekdays.

Are all states included in the program? Yes. 

Is there any flexibility on the amount received? Only for recipients in Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories. Alaskans will receive $10.99 per day, and Hawaiians and certain U.S. territory residents will receive $7.97 per day. 

Consumers who have additional questions should check out the USDA’s complete guide to the program, which is available here.

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