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Nevada children could soon receive hundreds of dollars each in meal funds through new Pandemic EBT program

Kristyn Leonard
Kristyn Leonard

The Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee unanimously approved more than $800,000 of emergency funding on Tuesday for a federal program that could provide nearly $300 in meal assistance to each Nevada child who missed out on their free and reduced priced lunches as a result of school closures.

The $848,624 in U.S. Department of Agriculture emergency funds used for the program are being allocated from money provided to Nevada by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program was created as a part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March. 

Officials announced on Friday that Nevada had been approved for the program, joining 47 other states, Washington DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which all have previously been approved for participation.

According to the Department of Agriculture, approximately 64 percent of children in participating schools in Nevada were eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch during the 2019-2020 school year. Pandemic EBT will allow these 302,000 children and their families to use their government benefits to purchase food items at a variety of retailers such as grocery stores to make up for missed meals during school closures.

At a presentation to the Interim Finance Committee on Tuesday, Robert Thompson, the deputy administrator for Nevada’s Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said that most of the program’s cost came from distribution of the plastic benefit cards to households that were not already receiving SNAP benefits. 

This program is available for students receiving free or reduced-price meals regardless of their SNAP eligibility. While those already receiving SNAP benefits will simply have the additional funds added to their existing cards, those who are not part of the SNAP program will receive new cards and flyers explaining their automatic enrollment in the new program.

The state has not provided information on how many children eligible for the new program were not already receiving SNAP benefits.

Qualifying households will receive funds equivalent to the cost of each meal each eligible child would normally have received in schools. These funds are being granted retroactively, applying to meals the child missed when schools shut down during the 2019-2020 school year.

Each child will receive $5.75 for each day of school they missed because of closures. For children who were enrolled in all three months schools were closed, the benefit will amount to $296 per child.

The benefits will be distributed over a period of 10 days, with 10 percent of eligible households receiving their benefits each day so as not to overwhelm retailers and cause issues with supply.

Many schools in the state did provide food pick-up sites for children when closures began, but policy experts have been calling for Nevada to apply for these additional benefits for several months, with the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities think tank specifically pointing to them as a way to help vulnerable households combat food insecurity.

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