Families to Receive Meal Replacement Assistance

Arkansas children who are eligible for free and reduced-priced school meals will have additional nutritional benefits coming their way soon. But it’s important for parents to be aware of the benefits and how to use them.

Last week, Arkansas became the latest state approved to start a Pandemic-EBT program under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP. Pandemic-EBT is a new program authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and signed into law by President Trump. Its purpose is to help families afford to replace the meals their children would have received at school, and it’s available even to families who have never used SNAP benefits before.

As the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) explained here, there is no additional paperwork or process necessary to receive benefits. If you are already enrolled in SNAP, you will see the additional benefits on your EBT card the last week of May or first week of June. If you are not enrolled in SNAP, the Department of Education has provided DHS with the address it had on file for you. An EBT card will be mailed to that address sometime in June.

The amount will be $5.70 per meal, per child, for the days of the school year that they missed. The amount will be delivered in one lump sum, retroactive to the day that schools closed.

In the coming weeks, benefits will arrive in the mail for families who never had SNAP benefits before. Those families include immigrants who were not previously eligible for SNAP under federal law. Because they may not be aware of what an EBT card is, they may not know that it’s a way they can buy essential groceries for their children. We all need to help spread the word to Arkansas families to make sure they know to watch for these EBT cards to arrive in the mail.

We commend Governor Asa Hutchinson and his administration for taking the steps to create this new program in Arkansas. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the state’s application and has said it is committed to keep Americans safe, secure, and healthy during this national emergency and to keep kids fed when schools are closed. USDA is working with states and local authorities to ensure schools and other program operators can continue to feed children. This latest action complements previously announced flexibilities for Child Nutrition programs that:

  • Allow parents and guardians to pick up meals to bring home to their kids;
  • Temporarily waive mealtimes requirements to make it easier to pick up multiple-days’ worth of meals at once;
  • Allow meals to be served in non-congregate settings to support social distancing;
  • Waive the requirement that afterschool meals and snacks served through certain programs be accompanied by educational activities to minimize exposure to the novel coronavirus; and
  • Allow states, on an individual state-by-state basis, to serve free meals to children in all areas, rather than only those in areas where at least half of students receive free or reduced-price meals.