How students can benefit from the Pandemic EBT card program

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HARRISON COUNTY, W. Va. (WDTV) — EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer, cards are not new.

They are part of a long-running program that helps families across the country get financial support for food access, through partnerships between their state governments and the federal goverment.

But due to an increase in need during the coronavirus pandemic, a new program has been created to give wider access to these benefits.

The P-EBT or Pandemic EBT card program was approved as part of Congress's "Families First Coronavirus Response Act".

"They looked at the issue of the school closures, denying children who participated in a school lunch program access to a benefit that they were entitled to," said Melanie Purkey, the Senior Administrator for the West Virginia Department of Education "So they created this P, 'Pandemic,' EBT program to supply these benefits for those children even though the schools were closed,"

These cards are similar to a debit card, and can be used anywhere someone would normally use a SNAP benefit.

"It works like a debit card, for children who are eligible they receive a card that looks like a debit care and they would go to a grocery or food vendor that participates in that program and they would be able to purchase food with that card," said Purkey

If families already have a SNAP benefit card, these special benefits will be added on for each student under 18.

The amount of money on that card varies.

In West Virginia, each child who was eligible for free and reduced-price lunch on March 13, 2020, will get the full lump sum of $313.50.

Those who qualified after that will receive varying amounts depending on the date on which they qualified.

For families who have not used SNAP before but have run into hardship, such as job loss, during the pandemic, there is an online application for P-EBT cards for students in qualifying schools.

"They can apply through that site using the new information of their family income, based on whatever date their parent was laid off or their family income changed, they can use that site to apply for the benefits," said Purkey

This money on P-EBT cards is designed to fill the gap between when the state schools shut down through the end of the school year and are eligible to use until November.

"The benefits that they would have received on school days between March 16th and the end of May," said Purkey "So those are the days they are receiving benefits for and the cards they receive will have an expiration date of November,"

For families unsure if their child or their school district qualify for this support, the Department of Education website lists update information on feeding sites and lists of which schools and districts participate in the national school lunch program or are a "Community Eligible Provision" school, both of which make those students qualify for P-EBT cards.