COLUMBUS, Ohio — A key hunger-fighting program for Ohio children is being extended through the end of the school year.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program was created in March to help feed children who normally receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program but were learning from home.
Congress extended the program Oct. 1, and Ohio had to submit a new operation plan, which was just approved.
Rachel Cahill, consultant at the Center for Community Solutions, noted some families went without the assistance for several months.
"We're talking about October, November, December, January and up until whenever kids are able to get meals in school," Cahill outlined. "So we're glad that Ohio was one of the earliest states to make it through the sort of federal gauntlet of approval that it unfortunately took."
The extension starts in February and eligible families will receive retroactive benefits in a single payment.
P-EBT benefits are added to the Ohio Direction card, which is provided to SNAP beneficiaries and can be used to purchase foods at grocery stores.
It's estimated 600,000 Ohio children will benefit from the extended P-EBT.
Cahill noted last school year, the program distributed $261 million to eligible families in the state.
"P-EBT ended up being one of the only really pandemic relief resources that reached some families including families with immigrants and families who have had trouble enrolling in SNAP," Cahill explained. "So it was a really important way to reach those families and it was about $300 per child."
An estimated one in four Ohio children is struggling with hunger, and Cahill said P-EBT is part of an "all-hands on deck" strategy to meet the need.
"We are in a desperate hunger crisis right now, and we can actually see some trends in states where, when P-EBT hit, the rate of hunger slipped down for a period of time because families had additional resources to purchase food," Cahill observed.
School meal providers also are making food available for families in need, as well as local food pantries. And the latest COVID relief package included a 15% increase to SNAP benefits through June.