Kansas officials boost food assistance through pandemic relief program

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TOPEKA — Kansas officials are extending and expanding access to a federal relief program for vulnerable families whose children were without school meals because of the pandemic.

Pandemic EBT program funds for the 2020-21 school year will be issued later this month to families of children that reported missed lunches because of school closures. The child must qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and the school must have been closed or operated at reduced attendance for at least five consecutive days due to the pandemic.

The program also will be extended to those who attended child care facilities last year. Previously, children younger than 6 did not qualify for this assistance.

“Expanding the P-EBT program to child care facilities will address food insecurity and make sure all Kansas children have reliable access to healthy foods as we overcome COVID-19,” said Gov. Laura Kelly. “Keeping young Kansans safe and healthy is critical, and I’m glad to see this program reaching the families who need it most.”

The P-EBT program was a part of the first pandemic relief package passed by Congress in March 2020 to aid families with food insecurity. After legislative leaders earlier this month cut off millions of dollars in food assistance by refusing to extend the COVID-19 emergency declaration, advocates hoped to see this program offer continued stability.

The program works similarly to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Families receive an electronic benefit transfer card — just like a debit card — preloaded with money they can use to buy groceries for their children who missed out on school meals.

Families already receiving public assistance through the Kansas Department for Children and Families will receive these benefits automatically, while all others must apply on the department website.

Last year, 170,760 Kansas children received an average of $291 in P-EBT benefits for a total of $49.7 million provided to families in four months, according to data provided by Kansas Appleseed.

Benefit amounts vary based on each child’s learning situation. Families are notified of the specific amount when approved for the program.

“This program is essential to families who are experiencing food insecurity and don’t always know where their next meal will come from,” said DCF secretary Laura Howard.

P-EBT for this summer will be issued in the fall.

Haley Kottler, a campaign director for Kansas Appleseed, said it is instrumental that these programs receive support as families lose access to other sources of food assistance.

Under the now-expired emergency declaration, average monthly payments through the SNAP program increased from $106 to $193 for 63,000 Kansas households. That boost was taken away when Republican leaders rejected the governor’s request to extend the emergency declaration through August.

Kottler said the loss of those funds makes the extension of the P-EBT program more important.

“We know through research that hunger in Kansas among all Kansans would have been so much more amplified if these programs didn’t exist,” Kottler said. “I can’t imagine if there wasn’t a pandemic EBT program how many more Kansas children would be going hungry throughout the pandemic.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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