State announces new food assistance program for families of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals

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The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or P-EBT, provides EBT cards to eligible families. The cards may be used to buy food. Families of children who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school during the current school year are eligible to receive the cards.

Families will receive benefits for days that students in the household are distance-learning at home, rather than in the school building.

Families do not need to apply for the benefit, according to a news release from the state government. School districts are gathering information about which students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Eligible households will receive letters notifying them about the P-EBT benefit, and they will be mailed EBT cards in the coming weeks.

The benefit will equal $6.82 for each day a student has been learning through distance instruction. The amount is the current daily federal reimbursement that schools receive per student for providing a free breakfast, lunch and after-school snack.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction estimates that about 31,400 students in the state will qualify for the P-EBT benefit. Benefit amounts for each student will vary, depending on the school district’s learning plan, whether in person or remote, said Linda Schloer, director of child nutrition for the state’s Department of Public Instruction.

The P-EBT program is intended to replace the value of meals the students would have received had they been able to attend school in person, said Michele Gee, director of the state’s Department of Human Services’ Economic Assistance Division.

The EBT cards may be used to buy food at retailers that are approved to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. These retailers include most grocery stores and farmers’ markets. The rules that govern allowable food purchases with SNAP benefits also apply to the P-EBT benefits.

“We continue to actively work to prevent hunger in North Dakota and are pleased to be able to offer Pandemic-EBT food assistance in coordination with DPI for this school year,” Jones said.

Baesler said, “Good nutrition is essential for a student’s education. It is difficult to pay attention and learn if you are hungry. That goes both for children and adults. This program is a welcome addition to North Dakota’s hunger-fighting efforts.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently approved North Dakota’s plan to operate the program, which was approved by Congress last year and signed into law in December 2020.

Families who have questions about eligibility may contact the North Dakota DPI’s P-EBT hotline at (701) 328-2732. Questions about EBT cards should be directed to the state Department of Human Services’ economic assistance division at SNAP-PEBT@nd.gov .

Following the pandemic-related school closures during the 2019-20 school year, the DHS issued P-EBT benefits totaling $9.5 million to about 36,750 North Dakota children. The department partnered with the state DPI and local schools to identify and notify eligible families.

Individuals and families with lower incomes or whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic can find information about other resources that can help their household budgets, including child care assistance, heating assistance and SNAP, at www.nd.gov/dhs/services/financialhelp .

For information about rental assistance and other resources and services supporting North Dakotans affected by the pandemic, visit www.ndresponse.gov/covid-19-resources.

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