The Biden administration will deploy funds from the American Rescue Plan, its $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, to feed as many as 34 million schoolchildren this summer. The P-EBT (Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer) program will be the largest summer food program in history, according to the administration.
“We know that summer hunger is a problem in normal years, but obviously this year, with heightened food hardship as a result of the pandemic, we’re happy to deploy the program this summer,” said Stacy Dean of the Department of Agriculture.
Each eligible child will receive $375 to buy food for the approximately ten weeks school is out this summer. The funds will be loaded onto a special card held by their parent or guardian. Eligible children are those under 6 who qualify for SNAP (better known as food stamps) and those of school age who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
The funds have the same limitations that SNAP funds have; they can’t be used to buy hot food or any non-food items. Enrollment in the program is automatic and cards are being mailed to eligible parents in the coming weeks.
The P-EBT program dates back to the early days of the pandemic when school closures mean millions of low-income children lost access to the place they normally ate breakfast and lunch. A report from the Brookings Institution concluded “This program is hitting its target: we find that Pandemic EBT reduces food hardship faced by children by thirty percent in the week following its disbursement.”
P-EBT is currently funded for both this summer and next summer, and that’s it. Here’s hoping that its proven efficacy—and the fact that American kids going hungry during the summer is a problem that predates the pandemic—means that it’s something that will endure if and when the COVID-19 emergency ends.
Dean says the Biden administration would welcome making the program permanent, but that it needs Congress to act.
“It’s an important policy for the administration and Congress to consider for the future,” she said.