Food Service workers at Ball High School

Marina Lima grabs bagged lunches for Galveston Independent School District students as she and school district food service staff prepare for the lunch pick-up at Ball High School on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

Families and guardians with eligible students now have until Aug. 21 to apply for a one-time Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer or P-EBT food benefit of $285. Gov. Greg Abbott last week extended the application deadline to enable more people to apply.

As of July 17, more than 20 percent of available funding in Texas remained unclaimed, according to the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The one-time payment from the federal government is available for every child who received free meals under the National School Lunch Program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designated $1 billion to supplement families that may have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals when the COVID-19 emergency closed schools in the spring.

That includes students at schools designated as Community Eligibility Program, or CEP campuses, where all students receive free breakfast and lunch, regardless of income, as well as students qualifying for free lunches based on family income.

All schools in the Galveston Independent School District are CEP participants and all students qualify for the one-time benefit, said Jennifer Douglas, the district’s director of child nutrition.

Students receiving federal SNAP benefits via a Lone Star card were automatically enrolled in the program and received the money back in May, according to Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the agency distributing the funds.

Newly approved recipients will receive a Texas P-EBT card loaded with the nontransferable funds. Funds must be used to purchase food and must meet existing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP guidelines, according to the commission’s website.

Families can safely apply for and receive funds regardless of citizenship status, so long as they received free meals through their schools, according to the commission.

Even if schools continued to provide bagged lunches and students received them, each eligible child is due the reimbursement benefit. In Texas, 3.6 million children are eligible for the P-EBT benefit.

Within the Texas City Independent School District, 85 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, said Melissa Tortorici, district spokeswoman.

“For the past two years, all but three of our campuses — Texas City High School, La Marque High School and Blocker Middle School — qualified for the Community Eligible Program, where all students get free breakfast and free lunch,” Tortorici said. “Since their school is a CEP, they qualify to apply.”

School districts sent out links to an online application in June, according to the commission. Potential applicants who didn’t receive a letter and want to apply should call the P-EBT Call Center at 833-613-6220, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for assistance.

“We know we have had a lot apply,” Tortorici said.

To learn more, visit hhs.texas.gov and read about the P-EBT program under Latest Headlines.

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