Federal pandemic money for meals program for students open for applications

Rick Wagner • Jun 19, 2020 at 2:00 PM

Tennessee children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school are eligible for pandemic monetary meal assistance through the Tennessee Department of Human Services or TDHS. The open enrollment is June 15-29, according to TDHS, which has an online application for the program at https://tdhs.service-now.com/relief?id=relief_registration.

Tennessee is one of more than 40 states eligible for the federal P-EBT program. Others in the region include Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia and Georgia. In Virginia, more information is available online from the Department of Social Services at https://www.dss.virginia.gov/benefit/pebt.cgi.

The program will provide parents with $5.70 per child for each day in March, April and May the child qualifies for P-EBT. It is in response to the novel coronavirus that closed schools in March through the end of the 2019-20 school year. 

The free meals students include those who attend a school in the federal Community Eligibility Provision or CEP program, which provides universal free meals to enrolled students.

“Financial assistance through the Tennessee Department of Human Services is now available for families that qualify for free and reduced price school meals. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) application is now available,” according to a Thursday message to parents from Hawkins County Schools, although the program is available statewide.

“Families across our state depend on the meals their children receive at school and many were not prepared to immediately replace those meals when schools shut down for COVID-19,” TDHS Commissioner Danielle W. Barnes said in a Monday news release. “The P-EBT program brings economic support to ensure children receive the nutrition they need. Helping families through this emergency is how we continue building a thriving Tennessee.”

Parents who already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits currently, do not need to apply. The funds began arriving on the EBT card they already use beginning June 12. Parents who do not receive SNAP benefits, but whose children do qualify for free or reduced school meals via income or by attending a CEP school, will need to apply for P- EBT online beginning June 15. The application period will end June 29.

Qualifying families will receive P-EBT support in two installments, one for meals in March and April initially, and then one additional disbursement later next month for May meals.

“During the COVID-19 school closures, we saw an incredible, herculean effort to keep providing meal services to students and families,” said TDOE Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “This additional relief from P-EBT will be helpful during this time of uncertainty for families and it is important to make sure every eligible family knows about the program.”

Throughout the COVID-19 school closures, many districts and schools across Tennessee used innovative ways to continue delivering meals to students and families, such as “grab and go” options, drive-throughs or bus delivery. On average they provided 1.5 million meals a week to families regardless of a student’s enrollment. Many emergency sites are continuing to provide student meals and receiving these meals does not disqualify a family from the P-EBT program.

For questions or assistance completing the application, call the Tennessee Department of Human Services hotline at 1 (833) 496-0661 and select option 3.

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