Senators urge approval of program for families who rely on free, reduced school meals

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U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are urging approval of Virginia’s request to ensure that children continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this crisis.

This request follows school closures triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak that have made it more difficult for eligible children to receive free meals.

“We write today in support of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s request to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program during the ongoing public health crisis. This program will allow households that contain children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals to receive a supplemental food purchasing benefit to offset the cost of meals that would have been provided at school. Operation of this program will help ensure that children across the Commonwealth will continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this health emergency,” the senators wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Commonwealth to close all K-12 schools through the end of this academic year. While this is a critical and necessary step to keep children, their families, and staff safe, these closures have eliminated food distribution that many children rely on as their primary source of nutrition during the week. Virginia’s inclusion in the P-EBT program would provide families with an allotment equal to the value of five school days’ worth of breakfast and lunch meals, according to the federal reimbursement rates specified by USDA.

“The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, the USDA provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with authority to expand eligibility and the level of benefits available under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. By providing households with free and reduced-price lunch eligible children with supplemental benefits for meals through the existing EBT program’s distribution mechanism, the bill ensures that many families will be able to meet the nutritional needs of their children during this crisis. We understand USDA is working with states and EBT vendors to implement P-EBT programs and that a handful of states have already been approved to begin operating programs,” the senators continued.

In their letter, the senators urged the USDA to swiftly approve Virginia’s application, which was submitted earlier this week to ensure no child goes hungry during this health crisis.

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