Did your child get free or reduced-price school lunches? You may be eligible for $285 in food aid.

Posted at 8:31 AM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 09:31:30-04

Low-income Texas families now have through the month of July to apply for $285 in federal aid per child to make up for the free and reduced-price meals they missed while schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission on Monday extended the deadline for applying to July 31.

Families that were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in March don’t need to apply for the program known as Pandemic-EBT, short for electronic benefits transfer. These benefits were automatically deposited on their Lone Star Card — the debit-like card Texas uses to distribute SNAP aid — in early June.

Other families, including those that enrolled in SNAP after March, have through July 31 to submit applications for the food benefits program.

Here’s what parents and guardians need to know when applying for the benefits.

Who is eligible?

Schoolchildren up to 21 years old who received free or reduced-priced meals at school this school year are eligible for the program.

Although families who receive SNAP automatically got benefits for children 5 to 18 years old, they also have through July 31 to apply for benefits if they have eligible children under 5 years old or between the ages of 19 and 21.

Infants and toddlers are not eligible for Pandemic-EBT. If Congress were to pass the HEROES Act — another multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill — toddlers would be eligible for Pandemic-EBT, and benefits would extend through the summer, said Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst with Every Texan, a left-leaning think tank previously known as the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

How much money will my family get?

The program will pay out a lump sum of $285 per eligible child, or about $5.70 to cover both breakfast and lunch for each canceled day of school. Guardians of two kids who missed out on school meals would receive $570 in benefits, guardians of three kids would get $855, and so on. This is a one-time payment.

Once approved, families will get one Texas Pandemic-EBT card in the mail preloaded with funds. The card works just like a debit card but can only be used for food.

Pandemic-EBT follows the same rules as SNAP. Families can’t use either benefit for hot and prepared food, like a hot sandwich meant to be eaten immediately, alcohol or tobacco products. Benefits cannot be used at restaurants.

How do I apply?

School districts should have sent out a link to the application in the first week of June.

The application is straightforward. Parents and guardians will fill out details like the child’s name, address and school ID, Cooper said.

When will I get my benefits?

Families should get their Pandemic-EBT cards in the mail within seven to 10 days of submitting their applications as long as the information provided on the online application matches the records submitted by the Texas Education Agency and Texas Department of Agriculture.

If the information doesn’t match, officials will follow up with both departments, which may delay when a family gets its card, said Elliott Sprehe, a spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the department that oversees Pandemic-EBT.

The commission said it will process orders as they come in, once it has a list of the children who get free or reduced-price school meals.

Does Pandemic-EBT affect my ability to get other benefits like unemployment or SNAP?

No. The school meal benefit will not affect eligibility for other benefits.

How long do I have to spend the benefits?

Unused benefits expire after a year.

Is my child still eligible if the school district has continued to provide meals?

Yes, Pandemic-EBT is an additional benefit, not a replacement for programs like grab-and-go school meals or summer meals.

Do you have to be a citizen to get Pandemic-EBT?

No, any child is eligible for the program, regardless of their immigration status or that of their caregiver.

While immigrant families may worry that applying for benefits will hurt their chances to become legal residents under the public charge rule — which penalizes immigrants who’ve used public benefits for a certain period of time — Pandemic-EBT does not count toward that rule.

Does my child qualify if they get free meals at their day care?

Maybe. If the child attends Head Start or a pre-K program that participates in the National School Lunch Program, they are eligible for the food benefits program.

Are kids in charter and private schools eligible?

Yes, as long as the school provided meals through the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Programs.

Meena Venkataramanan contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities, now called Every Texan, has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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