Pennsylvania families who had to face food expenses without access to school meals for their children during the virtual school period in 2020-21 will begin receiving a combined $1 billion in cash assistance this week through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program.
As reported by WHYY, the amounts will vary depending on the time a student spent in virtual school this academic year. The maximum benefit for a child who spent the entire year in a virtual setting will be about $1,200.
Eligibility is limited to students who receive free or reduced school lunch who attended virtual school in 2020-21. However, over 55% of Pennsylvania´s school population that participates in the school meals program in a normal year are set to get some benefits.
State officials say the school meals subsidies are a significant help for the families who faced unemployment and significant reductions in household income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vonda Ramp, Pennsylvania Department of Education director of child nutrition programs, said while schools and communities have made strong efforts to provide free meals, families are still in need.
Meals for families
Ramp pointed to grab-and-go meals and curbside meal pick-up programs. Pennsylvania provided about 144 million meals to families. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that many of those programs will continue into the summer months and the 2021-22 school year.
Congress started the cash assistance program at the start of the pandemic, administering funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beginning last spring, Pennsylvania distributed more than $300 million to families through the program, giving most parents about $370 per student.
In Philadelphia, Allentown and other districts in Pa., all families received the aid because all students can receive free school lunch, regardless of income. Any district where at least 40% of families are eligible for free or reduced lunch can apply for a community eligibility provision that grants free school meals to all of its students.