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Students throughout Sumter and South Carolina will benefit from a federal food assistance program meant to supplement family food costs resulting from the pandemic and prolonged school closures.
South Carolina received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a Pandemic EBT program, a one-time benefit for which as many as 467,000 K-12 students statewide may qualify.
The program is open to students who normally receive free or reduced-price school meals. In Sumter, every K-12 student receives free meals, according to Shelley Galloway, spokesperson for Sumter School District, so every public school student in Sumter qualifies.
South Carolina joins 46 other states that have elected to implement this optional program.
Following Gov. Henry McMaster’s March 15 executive order closing schools statewide effective the next day, children have been eating at home when they otherwise would be eating breakfast and lunch at school.
The school district offered packaged meals to go while school remained online first by delivery to certain neighborhoods and pickup, then by pickup at a handful of schools used as a hub throughout the county, but those meals are not offered while school is out for the summer.
“We know that schools in South Carolina do more than educate children; they provide them nutritious meals that many families depend on. Even during ordinary summers, many families struggle to keep children fed,” said DSS State Director Michael Leach. “Since schools closed much sooner due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have lost access to a vital food resource.”
DSS is partnering with the state Department of Education to identify students eligible for FRP meals and share the necessary data to enable families to receive assistance without having to apply for it.
Based on federal guidelines, the benefit amount for each child is based on a daily rate of $5.70, multiplied by the average number of days school was canceled. For South Carolina, this equates to 58 days (March 16 – June 3). At $5.70 per day, each child who was enrolled in a FRP meals program in March will receive $330.
SNAP households with a qualifying child(ren) will automatically receive their P-EBT benefit on their regular EBT card on July 7 or on their normal monthly SNAP issuance date, whichever is later. For children who were enrolled in an FRP meals program as of March 13 and are not receiving SNAP, DSS expects to begin mailing new P-EBT debit cards to the home address on file with the school district on July 20.
Food purchasing with the P-EBT benefit is subject to the same restrictions as EBT cards issued for SNAP recipients, and cards may be used at any store that accepts SNAP. Recipients will have one full year to use the benefit before it expires, and receipt of P-EBT does not preclude participation in summer feeding programs or other community-based food programs for children and families.
“No child in South Carolina should have to go hungry,” State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said. “The Pandemic EBT program will help ensure our most vulnerable students and their families have the resources needed to put food on the table during the summer so they are healthy and ready to learn when schools re-start in the fall.”
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