USDA adds Maine to program for feeding children amid pandemic

Tue, 05/05/2020 - 3:30pm

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced Maine is among four states now approved to operate Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), a new program authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed by President Trump, which provides assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals dealing with school closures.

    The four states will be able to operate Pandemic EBT, a supplemental food purchasing benefit to current SNAP participants and as a new EBT benefit to other eligible households to offset the cost of meals that would have otherwise been consumed at school, according to a news release.

    For the 2019-2020 school year, Maine had approximately 77,000 children eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch, or approximately 42% of children in participating schools.

    16 other states have previously been approved for the Pandemic EBT program. 

    Under FFCRA, states have the option to submit a plan to the Secretary of Agriculture for providing these benefits to SNAP and non-SNAP households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to pandemic-related school closures.

    State agencies may operate Pandemic EBT when a school is closed for at least five consecutive days during a public health emergency designation during which the school would otherwise be in session.

    The implementation of Pandemic EBT is in line with USDA’s commitment to keep Americans safe, secure, and healthy during this national emergency and to keep kids fed when schools are closed, the release noted.

    USDA is working with states and local authorities to ensure schools and other program operators can continue to feed children, per the release. 

    This latest action complements previously-announced flexibilities for the Child Nutrition programs that:

    Allow parents and guardians to pick up meals to bring home to their kids;

    Temporarily waive meal times requirements to make it easier to pick up multiple-days’ worth of meals at once;

    Allow meals be served in non-congregate settings to support social distancing;

    Waive the requirement that afterschool meals and snacks served through certain programs be accompanied by educational activities to minimize exposure to the novel coronavirus; and

    Allow states, on an individual state-by-state basis, to serve free meals to children in all areas, rather than only those in areas where at least half of students receive free or reduced-price meals.