Summer is starting, yet money that was meant to feed students this past school year has only just started trickling in.
The federal Pandemic-EBT program was supposed to provide eligible families with monthly food benefits during remote learning. In total, New Jersey families are owed nearly $564 million.
Yet families of preschool-age children only just started receiving the money. And hundreds of thousands of families with school-age children are still waiting for the benefits, which the state says should arrive this summer.
Here’s what you need to know about the long-delayed food money.
What is Pandemic-EBT?
Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or P-EBT, is a federal program meant to help families purchase food when students weren’t able to get school meals during the pandemic.
Eligible families receive money on debit cards they can use to buy food anywhere that accepts food stamps, including most grocery stores, food markets, and online retailers such as Amazon and ShopRite.
The program began after school buildings shut down last spring and was extended through the 2020-21 school year and this summer. Families should receive benefits for each month of school that their children were learning remotely at least part of the time.
Who is eligible?
Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible if they receive free or reduced-priced lunch while in school. About 76% of Newark Public Schools students fell into one of those categories last school year.
Students also had to attend a school that operated remotely at least part time this past year, which all Newark schools did. Students are not eligible for any month when they learned fully in person.
This school year, children 5 and under also qualify for P-EBT benefits. However, they had to live in an area, such as Newark, where schools were at least partly remote. And their families had to qualify for SNAP, or food stamps, in October 2020.
You do not need to sign up for this benefit — the state will automatically enroll eligible children.
The state will add the money to existing EBT cards for families with children in SNAP. Families who aren’t enrolled in SNAP should receive a P-EBT card if they haven’t already.
How much money will you get?
Eligible children 5 and under should get $122.76 for each month of the 2020-21 school year.
Eligible school-age children should get $122.76 per month when they learned remotely full time. They should get $61.38 per month for when they were on a hybrid schedule, meaning they went into classrooms part time. In Newark, most students were fully remote until April, when some began hybrid learning.
When will you get the benefits?
Eligible families already should have received benefits for spring 2020 and last September.
Children 5 and under should get their benefits for October 2020 to the end of the 2020-21 school year by June 25. That includes some 105,000 children statewide.
School-age children should receive their benefits sometime this summer. That group includes roughly 840,000 students statewide.
Why is it taking so long?
The P-EBT program was pretty straightforward last school year: Any child who received subsidized school meals was eligible for the benefits for the months school buildings were closed. While New Jersey delayed sending out the benefits, most families received those for spring 2020 by late July last year.
The program became a lot more complicated this past school year. Now, school districts must determine whether each eligible student was fully remote, hybrid, or fully in person each month.
In addition, the Trump administration was slow to roll out guidance for states. And some states took a long time to submit plans for how they would issue the benefits. New Jersey didn’t send its plan until midway through this school year, and the federal government didn’t approve it until April.
As a result, the state is still working with districts to gather information about which students are eligible and how much money their families should receive. While families of children under 6 started seeing money this month, the families of roughly 840,000 school-age children are still waiting for their benefits.
What can you do?
Families with questions about their case may call the NJ Pandemic EBT Call Center at 1-833-581-2214. They may also use this online contact form.
The state also recommends contacting your school district if you’re not sure whether your child is eligible.
And if you need a replacement EBT card, you can contact your local county board of social services.