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Education

Missouri Families Can Apply For Federal Pandemic Aid To Cover Last Year's School Meals

Jennings schoolchildren pick up lunches delivered in 2018 by Operation Food Search at Hanrahan Elementary School.
Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Jennings schoolchildren pick up lunches delivered in 2018 by Operation Food Search at Hanrahan Elementary School.

A federal program called P-EBT could help cover hundreds of dollars in groceries for families with children who lost access to meals because they attended class online and not in person during the 2020-21 school year.

Thousands of Missouri families can apply to receive federal pandemic aid if their children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.

The state Department of Social Services on Tuesday launched the program, P-EBT, to help cover the cost of food for families with children who lost access to those meals last school year because of virtual learning. Funding for the program comes from the federal coronavirus relief package Congress passed in September 2020.

The state estimated in its federal application that more than 268,000 children could benefit from the aid.

“It's really to help offset those costs of feeding children at home when they would have been receiving those meals at school if it had been a normal school year,” said Melissa Wolf, deputy director of the department’s Family Support Division.

Missouri will give families $1,161 per child if the student learned virtually full-time. If the student learned virtually part-time, families will receive $700 per child.

Families enrolled in the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program didn’t have to apply to receive P-EBT when the first pandemic relief package passed in March 2020. This time, they do.

St. Louis-area service providers and food banks are working feverishly to spread the word about the benefit before the July 31 application deadline.

“This could be a great lifeline for families that find it difficult when school is out to keep up with the increase in their food budget,” said Trina Ragain, chief innovation officer at Operation Food Search.

Many families struggle to feed their children in the summer because of increased food costs, and service providers say more could soon be affected by Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to stop extra federal unemployment benefits.

People can submit an application for up to five school-age children. Applications are available in English and Spanish and must be sent via email or mail. If a family is on SNAP benefits and has a child who is 6 or younger and in child care, the family will automatically receive P-EBT.

Students in St. Louis Public Schools, Jennings School District and others already qualify for the aid.

The state is required to distribute the money to eligible families within 30 days of application completion.

Families whose financial situation changed during the pandemic should apply for free and reduced lunches within their school district and submit a P-EBT application. Families do not have to use SNAP benefits to be eligible for the program.

A household of four needs to make less than $50,000 a year to qualify for reduced lunches and less than $34,000 a year to qualify for free lunches.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

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