April 17, 2020
By Katherine Ungar, JD Policy Associate
Pandemic- EBT: Food Assistance is Available for Children and Families through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020. Ohio Cannot Wait Any Longer.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 provides new authority and flexibility to the USDA and states to adapt and manage the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in order to meet the needs of families and children during the pandemic. The Act allows states to provide short-term benefit increases under two provisions:
- Emergency Allotments (EA)
First, the legislation gives states the authority to provide additional SNAP benefits, known as Emergency Allotments (EA), up to the maximum benefit for their household size, to existing SNAP households. This means, unfortunately, that the poorest families already receiving the maximum benefit will not receive additional benefits under this provision. FNS approved Ohio’s request to issue emergency allotments to current SNAP households for March and April 2020, raising current monthly allotments to the maximum monthly amount. The approval indicates that all emergency allotments will be provided through ongoing SNAP households’ EBT cards. The date for the release of the March benefits for Ohio was adjusted to April 7th or 8th. We are glad that Ohio recognized the need to swiftly submit a plan for these additional benefits. Ohio must submit a plan under the second provision of Act, Pandemic-EBT.
- Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)
Second, the Act gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to approve state plans for temporary emergency standards for eligibility and levels of benefits under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. The program would provide additional benefits, known as Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), to SNAP and non-SNAP households with children who receive free or reduced meals in school. These P-EBT benefits will be ongoing so long as their school will be or has been closed for at least 5 consecutive days during a public health emergency. The household allotment amount will be at least the value of school meals at the free rate over the course of 5 school days for each eligible child in the household, or about $114 a month per child.
Ohio Must Submit a Plan for P-EBT Now
We encourage the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) to submit a plan for P-EBT to the USDA. Both New York and Michigan have already submitted plans and many other states are in the process. Ohio must follow suit to assist Ohio families struggling to keep food on the table. During the 2019-2020 school year, 4 in 10 Ohio students, 717,740 Ohio children, received free or reduced priced lunch. The P-EBT would provide an estimated additional $81,000,000 each month in food assistance going directly to Ohio’s children and families.
While developing its plan, ODJFS must consider how it will distribute P-EBT to both SNAP and non-SNAP families of children qualifying for free or reduced lunch. For SNAP families, this process may be more streamlined. ODJFS should form a plan to distribute the additional assistance directly onto SNAP families’ existing EBT cards.
Importantly, Ohio must also address how it plans to issue P-EBT to non-SNAP families of children qualifying for the free or reduced lunch program. Reaching non-snap family children will require cooperation between the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), the agency that runs the state’s school meals programs, the local school districts, where the individual data on who receives free or reduced priced lunch is housed, and ODJFS, the agency that runs the state’s EBT program. ODE has access to the roster of children approved on an individual basis for free or reduced-price school meals and all children attending schools that serve all meals at no charge under community eligibility. ODJFS should consider sending EBT cards out to non-SNAP families through mail, internet, or through some type of access point, so that no face to face interaction is necessary. The program should not require any additional application, rather should automatically enroll any families of children who receive free or reduced priced lunch.
In addition, Ohio must consider in its plan, how it will reach families of children who may not have qualified for free or reduced lunch prior to the pandemic, but due to a change in family income, now would. We estimate that over 200,000 children in Ohio have parents who have lost a job in the last two weeks of March. The Income Eligibility Guidelines effective from July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020 are up to 185% of federal poverty line for reduced price meals and 130% of federal poverty line for free meals. While the free or reduced price meal program distinguishes between those who can afford to pay a discounted amount and those that cannot, the P-EBT does not. In other words, the same P-EBT amount would be distributed to the families of children who receive or would receive free or reduced lunch, regardless if they receive free lunch or reduced lunch. Therefore, all children in households with incomes at or below185% of the federal poverty line are eligible for the P-EBT benefit.
Ohio families are struggling for a myriad of reasons, the ability to put food on the table should not be one. The Pandemic-EBT program is available for all states, including Ohio. What is Ohio waiting for?