AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas families who relied on the Pandemic EBT card, which previously provided a one-time benefit of $285 for students receiving free and reduced-price meals, can apply for another round of food aid for the 2021-22 school year.
The federal benefit helps provide for the approximately 3.7 million eligible, low-income children in Texas who lost access to free and reduced-cost meals when schools first shut down during the pandemic. This time, the benefit could provide up to $1,200 per student, depending on the number of days most students at their school received remote instruction during the past school year.
Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission would allocate more than $2.5 billion in food benefits to all eligible families, an increase from the $1 billion in food benefits distributed last year.
“Thank you to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approving this second round of pandemic food benefits for Texas families,” Abbott said in a statement. “These additional benefits will continue to help Texans provide food for their families.”
Families who received the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program before 2021 will automatically receive benefits on their P-EBT cards by May 28. Those who started relying on SNAP after May 2021 and have children born before Aug. 1, 2014, will need to apply.
The P-EBT card can be used at all places that accept SNAP payments, including grocery stores and supermarkets.
School districts will notify eligible families with the application by June 2, and applications will remain open until Aug. 13.
The process is more complex this year because the amount of money allocated will depend on the days a school had remote instruction, said Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst with Every Texan. She said families may have to go through an extra process if their children attended school remotely while their districts still had in-person instruction, and this could act as barrier to access.
"That's what we're worried about, and that's why we we're trying to educate families as well," Cooper said. "We'll be working really hard with our nonprofit partners across the state, food banks and others to get info to families and help them if they need help to understand that, yes, if your child was virtual, more than the mount your school qualifies for, you can go online and you can appeal," Cooper said.
Some low-income families live in multi-generational households, which motivated many children to learn remotely when possible to avoid spreading Covid-19 to their older relatives, said Jeremy Everett, the executive director of the Baylor University Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty. Because of this, the number of students who may have to go through this additional process may be high.
"They're disproportionately people of color, and they were disproportionately affected by COVID at a more extreme rate than higher-income households," Everett said.
Last year, Abbott extended the deadline for food aid because many eligible families still hadn’t applied. By late July, more than 20% of the eligible Texas schoolchildren had not signed up for the program, partly because families were uncertain about their eligibility. Cooper said she is hopeful that this won't happen again.
"P-EBT will be a huge help to families," Cooper said. "We're very pleased that it's finally getting off the ground. We know all the families who have struggled in this last year to put food on the table, to keep life together — this is going to be a huge help to those families. And we just want to make sure that they get what they actually are entitled to."