How to Get Pandemic School Lunch Benefits
Low-income families whose children were at home during pandemic can apply to state for federal aid.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services promised to begin reimbursing families who qualify for free or reduced price school meals on March 25 through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, or P-EBT.
However, some eligible families have been temporarily left without the P-EBT benefits, based on lack of information proving their eligibility, or information on their current address.
The program pays $6.82 per day per child for students who learned from home and did not receive meals at school. (The Hunger Task Force has a virtual learning benefits calculator to help you see the benefits owed to you.)
According to the Department of Health Services, families of 158,000 eligible children have already been awarded the first round of P-EBT benefits. Families of another 168,000 were notified that they would not be receiving benefits at this time, though “some of the families included in this number will receive benefits as more information is received from schools or upon review of their cases.”
Families of an additional 79,000 children who receive free or reduced price meals at a school participating in the National School Lunch Program will need to fill out an application, which will be available April 12.
In a briefing Wednesday, Rebecca McAtee, director of enrollment policy and systems at the Department of Health Services, said that officials are still waiting to receive surveys from schools statewide with updated address and P-EBT eligibility information, but that they have received surveys from MPS.
This means that families with children attending MPS schools should have their information updated in the coming weeks. Families with children attending non-MPS schools should contact their school about completing the P-EBT survey.
McAtee also said that if you received a letter saying you will get $0 in benefits, it doesn’t mean that you are ineligible for benefits, but that the Department of Health Services currently does not have enough information to determine if you are eligible to receive benefits.
What do I do next?
Families who meet the following conditions are still eligible to receive P-EBT benefits:
- Your child’s school participates in the National School Lunch Program. A list of schools participating in the program is here.
- You are eligible for free or reduced-price meals
- Your child spent at least one day in virtual learning during the 2020-21 school year.
If you received a letter saying that you qualify for a $0 award, you are likely eligible for more. The Department of Health Services estimates that you will receive your benefits by May 2 on your QUEST or P-EBT card. If you do not have a P-EBT card, one will be mailed to you.
If you have not received a letter but you meet the above conditions, you can fill out an application starting April 12.
The application will ask for a Social Security number, but you do not need to provide one. Proving a Social Security number may help you get your benefits sooner, but it is not necessary.
However, those calling in to the support line have reported wait times of an hour or more. Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force, said that her staff was on the line for more than four hours last week before giving up. McAtee said the Department of Health Services is currently adding and training staff to help reduce wait times.
Tussler also stressed that eligible families have rights, including the right to complain.
“If you think you might be eligible, or you know you are eligible but have been told you are not, you can file a complaint,” Tussler said. “If you call inquiring about benefits, make sure to also send an email so that there is a record of your complaint on file.”
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.