USDA approves new Pandemic EBT program to feed kids in Illinois, Arizona during coronavirus school closures

The USDA has approved a new program to make sure kids have access to food during the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and President Donald Trump have approved and signed the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program for children in Illinois and Arizona.

The program will provide assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals dealing with school closures due to COVID-19.

The two states are now able to operate Pandemic EBT providing current SNAP participants, and other eligible households, with a supplemental food purchasing benefit to offset the cost of meals that would have otherwise been consumed at school.

RELATED: Chicago Public Schools to give out free meals for students during COVID-19 closures

Illinois has approximately 1.1 million children, 63% of children participating in school, who are eligible for free-and reduced-priced lunch for the 2019-2020 school year, according to the USDA. Arizona has approximately 604,000 children, or 56% of kids participating in school, who are eligible for the same assistance.

All Chicago Public Schools are also offering free meals for pick up during the state-mandated school closures.

Families can pick up meals at the district school that's closest to them Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

CPS will provide every child in a household a food bag that contains three days of breakfast and lunch meals. Families can also pick up enrichment activity packets at schools.

CPS said select charter school locations will also provide free meals.

The school district is taking action after Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker closed all K-12 schools statewide for the remainder of the school year. It's part of an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

RELATED: Coronavirus Illinois: Schools closed for rest of school year, IL Gov. JB Pritzker announces as state sees highest daily spike in COVID-19 cases

The Chicago Park District is also offering special programming to help parents with child care during the school closures.

To find the nearest district school for free meals, visit CPS' map. For more information, check out the district's latest updates here: cps.edu/coronavirus.

Families can also call the CPS Command Center at 773-553-KIDS (5437) between 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, or email familyservices@cps.edu.

Michigan was the first state to launch such program last week, followed by Rhode Island, North Carolina and Massachusetts.

Under FFCRA, states have the option to submit a plan to the Secretary of Agriculture for providing these benefits to SNAP and non-SNAP households with children who have temporarily lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to pandemic-related school closures. State agencies may operate Pandemic EBT when a school is closed for at least five consecutive days during a public health emergency designation during which the school would otherwise be in session.

The USDA said the implementation of Pandemic EBT is in line with agency's commitment to keep Americans safe, secure, and healthy during this national emergency and to keep kids fed when schools are closed.

Officials said the USDA is working with states and local authorities to ensure schools and other program operators can continue to feed children.

This latest action complements previously-announced flexibilities for the Child Nutrition programs that:
  • Allow parents and guardians to pick up meals to bring home to their kids;

  • Temporarily waive meal times requirements to make it easier to pick up multiple-days' worth of meals at once;

  • Allow meals be served in non-congregate settings to support social distancing;

  • Waive the requirement that afterschool meals and snacks served through certain programs be accompanied by educational activities to minimize exposure to the novel coronavirus; and

  • Allow states, on an individual state-by-state basis, to serve free meals to children in all areas, rather than only those in areas where at least half of students receive free or reduced-price meals


  • Monday's announcement is the latest in a series of actions that USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has taken to uphold the USDA's commitment to "Do Right and Feed Everyone" during this national emergency, the agency said.

    Other actions include:
  • Launching a new coronavirus webpage to proactively inform the public about USDA's efforts to keep children and families fed;

  • Providing more than one million meals a week through public-private partnership Meals to You;

  • Increasing access to online purchasing by expanding the online purchasing pilot;

  • Debuting "Meals for Kids" interactive site finder - to help families find meals for children while schools are closed;

  • Allowing states to issue emergency supplemental SNAP benefits totaling more than $ 2 billion per month to increase recipients' purchasing power;

  • Collecting solutions to feeding children impacted through feedingkids@usda.gov; and

  • Providing administrative flexibilities in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to allow for social distancing

  • These actions and more are part of USDA's focus on service during the COVID-19 outbreak. To learn more about FNS's response to COVID-19, visit www.fns.usda.gov/coronavirus.

    USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American's agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat, according to officials. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy.
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