Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue the Student Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) food assistance program for eligible K-12 students through the 2021-22 school year under new rules.

North Carolina is still awaiting federal approval for Child Care P-EBT (previously called “Children Under 6”) and cannot issue benefits to this group until USDA approval is received.

North Carolina was one of the first states to launch Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) early in the pandemic. The federally funded program has provided more than $1.7 billion of groceries to more than 1.3 million children at risk of hunger due to school closures.

Eligibility for the program has changed. Under new federal rules for P-EBT, students will only get P-EBT for eligible days. With most students now in school and receiving meals in person, many households will not get P-EBT this year or will receive only a small amount when the student experiences a COVID-19 related absence.

Like last year, there is no application for P-EBT. Students are eligible for the program if they are approved for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) AND their attendance record reflects they are not physically present in school because of a COVID-19 related absence. More information on eligibility and benefits can be found by visiting the P-EBT website.

North Carolina plans to start issuing benefits to eligible students by the end of January 2022 and will announce when issuances begin.

“A nutritious diet is an essential part of a student’s health, well-being and academic success,” said NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen. “The P-EBT program helps students and their families who are directly impacted by COVID-19 by providing resources to buy food so they can focus on learning.”

COVID-19 related absences are days when students enrolled in physical schools are in quarantine and/or temporary virtual instruction. These absences are eligible for P-EBT when recorded by the student’s school using special attendance codes. For more information on COVID-19 absences, visit NCDHHS’s P-EBT Frequently Asked Questions.

The Student P-EBT program helps eligible K-12 students whose access to free or reduced-price meals at school has been impacted by COVID-19. The program provides benefits on a debit-like card that can be used to buy food at authorized retailers, including most major grocery stores. P-EBT is issued through a partnership between NCDHHS and the NC Department of Public Instruction.

Households can check HERE to see if their child’s school participates in the NSLP. Households with a student(s) who attends a NSLP school and is not approved for free or reduced-price meals for this school year can contact their child’s school to apply to be approved for free or reduced-price meals.

Virtual schools are not eligible to participate in the NSLP; therefore students attending these schools are not eligible to receive P-EBT. This is a federal rule set by USDA and North Carolina cannot change the rule.

Eligible students will only receive benefits for day(s) they were marked absent due to a COVID-19 related absence. Visit the P-EBT FAQs for more information on benefit amount.

For more information on P-EBT, visit the updated P-EBT website.

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