The federal government has approved Florida’s program to automatically issue benefits to children without access to free and reduced-price meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the approval, handed down by the the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wednesday. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) developed the Pandemic EBT Program (P-EBT) in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
“I applaud President (Donald) Trump and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for allowing states to identify gaps in services and develop new and needed programs that will help parents be reassured that their children will continue to receive healthy lunches although the school year is completed,” DeSantis said. “Throughout the public health emergency, Florida has taken a proactive approach to supporting families and ensuring they have access to critical resources and services.”
P-EBT will automatically issue those benefits to the households of more than 2.1 million children temporarily without meal support while schools remain closed during the pandemic.
In March, Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which in part allows for states to issue P-EBT as a supplemental benefit for households without access to meals during the pandemic. Families won’t need to act to receive those benefits, which will automatically arrive in June.
“Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership, we continue to work closely with our state and federal partners to help Florida families overcome situations brought on by this pandemic,” DCF Secretary Chad Poppell said. “This program offers automatic relief to families while ensuring children are not hungry during this crisis and allowing parents to focus on their family’s economic recovery.
DCF determines eligibility for the food assistance benefit program while FDACS oversees the National School Lunch Program in Florida. At the Governor’s direction, the agencies submitted a join plan to USDA on May 6.
“Thank you to Secretary (Sonny) Perdue and the USDA for providing Florida the flexibility to help feed our state’s children and families throughout COVID-19,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said. “Fighting the chronic hunger and food insecurity worsened by this pandemic is one of our top priorities, and the Pandemic EBT program will help us ensure that the families that most need help can access fresh, healthy nutrition at this challenging time.”
In the 2018-19 school year, Florida’s schools served 287 million school lunches, of which 247 million were free or reduced lunches.