The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program was launched as an effort to address the loss of access to free and reduced-price school meals due to widespread school closures at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Implemented to help address food insecurity during the pandemic, the shifting mix of school reopenings during the 2020-21 school year and the complexity of administering the P-EBT program proved to be fundamental barriers in providing timely support to families, who ultimately went without needed benefits for at least half of the school year.
States faced several challenges, some a result of decisions made at the federal level, that prohibited administrators from having sufficient time to administer benefits within the school year. These challenges included:
Delays in congressional authorization for a full SY 2020–2021 program
A lack of timely and clear guidance from the Food and Nutrition Service about how to implement P-EBT, which created challenges and delays when states sought to obtain approval for their plans
Untimely administrative funding, which impeded states’ ability to adequately staff their teams
Serious barriers to obtaining quality data needed to administer and physically issue benefits, including issues with data sharing between SNAP and education entities, assessing eligibility, and tracking constantly shifting school status
Researchers offer several recommendations based on feedback from state agencies tasked with administering the P-EBT program that include providing more timely and clear federal guidance to program administrators and establishing more feasible options for state implementation. Additional recommendations include examining existing state infrastructure and discussing how the P-EBT program can be integrated to shorten the time between benefit authorization and receipt.
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