USDA approves program to help Virginia children gain access to food

usdaThe USDA has approved funding for Virginia to operate the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer.

Pandemic EBT provides supplemental food purchasing benefits to households with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals who have lost access to them due to pandemic-related school closures. Authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the program aims to offset the cost of meals that otherwise would have been consumed at school.

“The Pandemic EBT program is a win-win solution,” said Tony Banks, senior assistant director of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “First, eligible families receive additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which increase their ability to purchase food for their children. Farmers can still benefit from consumer demand even though the demand has shifted from school nutrition programs to retail consumers.”

Virginia received approval on April 27, four days after Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting approval of the program.

“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,” wrote Kaine and Warner.

The extended benefits of Pandemic EBT complement waivers introduced by the USDA in March that have helped children receive food during the COVID-19 pandemic. The waivers allow parents to pick up multiple meals to take home to children.

The waivers also allow states to serve meals to children in all localities, not just in areas where half of students receive free or reduced-price meals. Approximately 594,000 Virginia students qualify.

Banks explained that through Pandemic EBT, school distribution sites will be able to give out supplies for an entire week, rather than in small portions each day.

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