April 23, 2020

Amid COVID-19, Warner, Kaine Urge Swift Approval of Food Program for Families Who Rely on Free or Reduced School Meals

~ Inclusion in Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program would help fight food insecurity for children during health crisis ~

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging swift approval of Virginia’s request to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program that would ensure that children in Virginia continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this crisis. This request follows school closures triggered by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that have made it more difficult for eligible children to receive free meals.

“We write today in support of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s request to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program during the ongoing public health crisis. This program will allow households that contain children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals to receive a supplemental food purchasing benefit to offset the cost of meals that would have been provided at school. Operation of this program will help ensure that children across the Commonwealth will continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this health emergency,” wrote the Senators in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Commonwealth to close all K-12 schools through the end of this academic year. While this is a critical and necessary step to keep children, their families, and staff safe, these closures have eliminated food distribution that many children rely on as their primary source of nutrition during the week. Virginia’s inclusion in the P-EBT program would provide families with an allotment equal to the value of five school days’ worth of breakfast and lunch meals, according to the federal reimbursement rates specified by USDA.

“The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, the USDA provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with authority to expand eligibility and the level of benefits available under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. By providing households with free and reduced-price lunch eligible children with supplemental benefits for meals through the existing EBT program’s distribution mechanism, the bill ensures that many families will be able to meet the nutritional needs of their children during this crisis. We understand USDA is working with states and EBT vendors to implement P-EBT programs and that a handful of states have already been approved to begin operating programs,” the Senators continued.

In their letter, the Senators urged the USDA to swiftly approve Virginia’s application, which was submitted earlier this week to ensure no child goes hungry during this health crisis.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier this month, they sent a letter to the USDA urging swift approval of Virginia’s request to participate in the agency’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program. Last month, the Senators successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that needlessly forced children to physically accompany their parent or guardian to a school lunch distribution site in order to receive USDA-reimbursable meals. Additionally, the Senators secured Virginia’s USDA Disaster Household Distribution Program designation, which allows food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients.

A copy of today’s letter can be found here and below.

 

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write today in support of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s request to operate a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program during the ongoing public health crisis. This program will allow households that contain children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals to receive a supplemental food purchasing benefit to offset the cost of meals that would have been provided at school. Operation of this program will help ensure that children across the Commonwealth will continue to have access to healthy and nutritious foods during this health emergency.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school closures nationwide, including in Virginia. In the Commonwealth, all K-12 schools remain closed through the end of this academic year. While this is a critical and necessary step to keep children, their families, and staff safe, these closures have eliminated the congregate food distribution that many children rely on as their primary source of nutrition during the week. The closure of schools across Virginia has made it difficult to ensure these students are able to access healthy and nutritious meals, which are essential for their growth and development.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with authority to expand eligibility and the level of benefits available under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. By providing households with free and reduced-price lunch eligible children with supplemental benefits for meals through the existing EBT program’s distribution mechanism, the bill ensures that many families will be able to meet the nutritional needs of their children during this crisis. We understand USDA is working with states and EBT vendors to implement P-EBT programs and that a handful of states have already been approved to begin operating programs.

To ensure no child in Virginia goes hungry, we urge USDA to work with the Commonwealth of Virginia to approve the Commonwealth’s request to operate a P-EBT program in a timely manner. This P-EBT program will provide Virginia with another critical tool to help keep families fed during this difficult time.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and all you and your staff are doing to help keep Americans fed during this public health crisis. We look forward to continue working with you to ensure access to healthy and nutritious foods for all Americans.

Sincerely,

 

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