Parents across Maine have been left confused in recent days by their children receiving Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards in the mail from the state.
Maine schoolchildren are receiving the cards as part of the final round of a Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) food assistance program meant to help support families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
EBT cards are traditionally distributed not to minors but to adults who apply for welfare benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
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Earlier this month the Maine DHHS announced that it had distributed over $166 million to the families of more than 150,000 Maine children through the program, called the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program.
The cards started landed in mailboxes last week.
The P-EBT program is federally funded, and began in May 2020 as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 — signed into law under President Donald Trump.
This latest round of P-EBT funds will be the last the program disperses, due to the end of the federal Public Health Emergency on May 11, 2023.
Eligibility for the program for school aged children in Maine is based on three criteria:
- They must attend a school that was closed or had reduced attendance due to COVID-19 for five consecutive days;
- They must have been absent from school or attended remotely for five or more consecutive days due to COVID-19;
- They must be eligible for free or reduced price meal benefits under the USDA National School Lunch Program.
Because all Maine students currently qualify for free lunch under the state’s school nutrition plan, in order to receive the P-EBT cards students only need to meet the first two criteria listed above.
The attendance requirements alone — without any means testing — do not preclude affluent families who may have had a child who missed school due to COVID-19 from receiving the P-EBT cards.
Eligible students will receive a card loaded with $8.18 for each day that they were absent or attended remotely due to COVID-19, and will be able to spend that money on food items in various stores throughout Maine.
The Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program, part of Regional School Unit 14 (RSU 14), said in a Facebook post Saturday that the Maine Department of Education revealed to them that 80 percent of all Maine students are receiving these benefits.
Below is an email the Yarmouth School Department sent to their community regarding the program in response to parents throughout the district who were curious as to why their child received a P-EBT card.
The department stated that they were initially unaware that the State of Maine was providing the cards to their students.