Last year, as the pandemic first spread in communities across the nation, one of the most striking impacts of COVID-19 was the closure of schools: not only were kids across the country no longer able to study alongside friends in a classroom, but many who rely on school breakfast and lunch no longer had reliable access to meals during the school day.
To ensure that children hit hardest by the pandemic continued to have access to enough to eat, the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program was created as a part of the federal government’s COVID-19 recovery response. P-EBT provides families with funds on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card to make up for meals missed at school due to disruptions. An early evaluation of P-EBT showed positive results, demonstrating that the program is effective at reducing household food insecurity (mirroring results of studies of the Summer EBT demonstration projects). P-EBT benefits will be available this summer for qualifying school-aged children as well as children in child care.
Feeding America projects that 13 million kids may experience food insecurity this year due to the pandemic. As food banks work to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry, we cannot meet that goal alone without the support of programs like P-EBT. We strongly urge Congress to build on the success of P-EBT by extending and expanding the program to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the authority needed to continue this important program during summers and for future school closings.
Below, three Feeding America member food banks share, in their own words, how they are working to ensure eligible families have access to P-EBT to help keep kids well-nourished.
Greater Chicago Food Depository (Illinois)
The Greater Chicago Food Depository has been running an outreach campaign for P-EBT in Illinois with over a dozen partner organizations. As our state began mailing out over 960,000 P-EBT cards in March and April, we coordinated over 15 webinars, developed FAQs in 6 languages (English, Spanish, Polish, Urdu, Arabic, and Mandarin), partnered with the Chicago Tribune on an op-ed uplifting the availability and benefits of P-EBT, and more. We developed a social media campaign that targeted parents with school-aged children across the state. We also ran radio ads on major English and Spanish stations in the Chicago region and will continue to do so throughout the school year.
Throughout our outreach efforts, schools and nutrition directors have been some of our best partners. Because P-EBT is a new program, families have had many questions, and their first point of contact has often been their schools. By connecting with and supporting school administrators, we have been able to successfully get resources and answers to families.
Feeding Missouri – State Association (Missouri)
Our food banks have focused our efforts on raising awareness of P-EBT and sharing state updates and applicant steps with our neighbors, based on provided guidelines. We have created educational materials to share with our neighbors, partners, and internal staff through our website and social media. Our St. Louis Area Foodbank sends out a monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) newsletter to community partners and clients, and the newsletter has been utilized to increase outreach.
In 2020, we received a large number of phone calls from our neighbors who were trying to understand what steps they needed to take to receive P-EBT benefits. The calls helped focus our goal of finding creative communication tactics to provide our neighbors with P-EBT updates and information so they could best decide what was needed for their families. As households struggle to make ends meet during these times, we wanted to create an information-rich pipeline that our communities could rely on for quick updates and accurate information.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee (Tennessee)
In Tennessee, our lead P-EBT organization is the Tennessee Justice Center. We are part of the Center’s cohort of organizations pushing out information about P-EBT to families via social media. Our SNAP staff and advocacy expert stay updated on any changes happening with the program so that we can answer any questions families may have when contacting us. The Tennessee Justice Center also has a website that we and other partners are pushing to provide information for families navigating P-EBT.
Learn more about how our lawmakers can work to ensure no child in the U.S. has to worry about where their next meal will come from.