Montana children will have access to a supplemental nutrition program that will help address food insecurity caused by the sudden closure of schools in March. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced late June that Montana will be allowed to operate Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program (P-EBT).  The program is expected to be implemented in July and August.

P-EBT was created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in order to help address food insecurity caused by the closure of schools due to the coronavirus public health emergency. P-EBT provides assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals if the children’s school closed for five or more days during the pandemic. Benefits will be the equivalent of the cost of school meals – $5.70 per child per day. Montana families will receive an estimated $330 benefits per child.

School meals are an essential part of addressing childhood food insecurity. Four in ten Montana children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches during the 2019-2020 school year. Without schools in session, thousands of Montana families struggled to put enough food on the table. Although non-congregate school meal sites helped improve access to meals, many families were not able to make several trips a day to these sites.

Approximately 67,000 children in Montana are eligible for P-EBT.

Families who already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will automatically be enrolled in P-EBT. Families who do not receive SNAP will need to enroll in the program so that they may receive their benefits. The Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Office of Public Instruction will work to identify and contact these families so they may receive their benefits.

P-EBT can help address rising food insecurity in Montana. In late June, four in ten Montana households with children reported not having enough to eat, or did not have enough of the kinds of food they wanted to eat, in the last week. School closures have not been the only challenge families have faced in putting food on the table. Unemployment rose to double digits during March, April, and May. Food prices have risen across the United States, due in part to the closure of meat processing plants. Even as the state re-opens, food insecurity will be a significant concern for many Montana families in the coming months.

Montana has enacted other provisions to help address food insecurity caused by the public health emergency, including increased benefits for some households. SNAP benefits act as a “first responder” in times of crisis and is one of the most effective ways to increase economic stability for families and communities.

MBPC will update this blog as we learn more about implementation P-EBT including how families who do not receive SNAP can enroll.

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