SOUTHERN COLORADO — Millions of dollars are available for families who have children using the free and reduced-price lunch program at school, but they need to act quickly to obtain the financial assistance.
Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) is a one-time public benefit program funded through CARES Act money. Colorado received $110 million for the program, which is designed to help families pay for food since schools were closed in the spring and students did not have access to free and reduced-price lunch.
Eligible families receive $5.70 per meal per child. That totals to $279 per child. The child must be enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program. Families can apply retroactively for this money.
Around $50 million of the money still has not been distributed among Colorado families. Less than half of eligible Colorado students have received or applied for the money. "It's money that the feds have, that if we're not using, stays with the feds," said Stephanie Perez Carrillo, the policy and partnerships manager for Colorado Children's Campaign.
Perez-Carrillo said there are still thousands of Colorado kids who are eligible for these benefits. "About 42% of our student population qualifies for free and reduced-priced lunch. So you know, we have over 900,000 students in the state, and if you're a math person that's just under 400,000 students that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch," said Perez-Carrillo.
In Colorado Springs, Care and Share Food Bank increased their efforts in March to respond to the pandemic. "From March up until the end of July, we distributed 42% more food to our neighbors in need, compared to the same time last year... Prior to the pandemic, one out of every nine neighbors was food insecure. During the pandemic, and because of the effects of it, we are projecting that number will increase to one out of every six people. For children, that number is one out of every four," said Joanna Wise, the marketing and communications director for Care and Share Food Bank.
Wise said she has witnessed the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity firsthand. "I specifically remember meeting one mom who said her children relied on breakfast and lunch at school. And when they had to stay home, that really added an extra burden on them, to the point where she was skipping meals herself to make sure that her kids could have three meals a day," said Wise.
If a family is on both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the free and reduced-price lunch program, their P-EBT benefits may have already been added to their existing card. Families should check and make sure they received this money, and if they did not, they can apply for it.
"For every meal a food bank is able to provide, SNAP is able to provide nine. That is why we value programs and benefits like P-EBT and SNAP, because we're not able to do our work alone," said Wise.
Wise said Care and Share Food Bank helped with 1,200 SNAP applications from March to August of this year. Last year during the same time period, they helped with around 800.
Perez-Carrillo said the process of alerting everyone who is eligible for these benefits has been challenging. She said one of the reasons is because students on the free and reducecd-price lunch program are not automatically enrolled in SNAP as well. "The problem we have here in Colorado is that not every free and reduced-price lunch student is enrolled in the SNAP program. We actually have one of the highest eligible, but not enrolled rates. And so, what that means is the kids and families that are already in SNAP received this benefit and should have seen this benefit in their SNAP cards. And then the families who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. or participate in free or reduced-price lunches but are not enrolled in SNAP, it was incumbent upon the school districts to kind of reach out to those families to notify them and let them know that this benefit was available," said Perez-Carrillo.
The deadline to apply for this money is September 23. CLICK HERE to apply now.
Hunger Free Colorado also has a helpful toolkit on their website that can walk you through how to apply.
If you are reading this after September 23, Care and Share Food Bank is still here to help. "If you miss the deadline to apply for P-EBT, or you don't qualify for it, or you need some extra help, we are here for that. Whether it's helping you apply for SNAP, or helping you reach out to one of our partner food pantries. We want to make sure that you don't have to worry about where your next meal is coming from," said Wise.
To learn more about P-EBT, Perez-Carrillo wrote this synopsis at the end of August.
News5 also reached out to Harrison School District 2, which announced a new program last week. The USDA signed a waiver extending the Summer Feeding Program, which provides any child up to 18 years old with a grab-and-go meal. They do not have to live in the Harrison School District or attend District 2 schools to get this food.
The service happens at five schools, and will last through October as a drive-thru event. Food is served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on school days.
The five locations of this service are:
- Centennial Elementary
- Pikes Peak Elementary
- Soaring Eagles Elementary
- Fox Meadow Middle School
- Sierra High School
Harrison School District 2 said they are also working to encourage families to apply for P-EBT benefits.