The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week that the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program will not be available for the 2023-2024 school year.
A small amount of P-EBT funds will be provided to summer students who attended traditional in-person classes this year and were approved for National School Lunch Program free or reduced-price school meals.
At the end of the summer, the P-EBT program will be discontinued with the ending of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The temporary program provides food assistance benefits to eligible families in light of the pandemic, especially since school lunches were not available while schools were closed or online.
Benefits are awarded on an EBT card, which operates similarly to a debit card. The cards can be used at most major grocery stores.
Cynthia Ervin, assistant director of food and nutrition within NCDHHS, said the P-EBT program ensured that children and their families got nutritious meals, even when not attending school due to the pandemic.
“The P-EBT has served North Carolina's children very well,” Ervin said. “We are so happy to be in partnership with the Department of Public Instruction and the Department of Health and Human Services in this endeavor to make sure that these kids get this critical need met through the P-EBT.”
The program has provided meals for over 1.6 million children since the start of the pandemic.
“It is definitely a great program for families, and I think the federal government and others are looking for other ways,” Ervin said. “But they are kind of making those decisions as we go, and then states will have to sign on them.”
Ervin said NCDHHS is encouraging past P-EBT users to use other resources currently available throughout different counties in North Carolina.
“There are some really good community systems in place for people with food insecurity and that's PORCH and TABLE,” Loree Perry, director of school nutrition for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said.
PORCH and TABLE are both hunger relief organizations that serve the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
Suzanne Tormollen, the director of marketing for TABLE, said the organization already has a significant waitlist of families signing up for their services after the discontinuation of other food assistance programs.
“We are sad to hear anytime a program that's helping families and kids is going to be ending”, Andrew Harrell, program and communication manager for the Carolina Hunger Initiative, said.
The Carolina Hunger Initiative is a nonprofit focused on increasing access to healthy meals for kids through school meals.
“We're seeing a lot of programs that were a huge benefit to families and kids and they're in their nutrition ending this year, while inflation causes things like rent, health care and transportation to be more expensive and force harder choices on families,” Harrell said.
Harrell said the end to the program is especially negative because it comes at the same time as other North Carolina food assistance programs being cut.
Perry said she hopes that community members will be able to volunteer and donate for their fellow citizens in this time of need, especially at a time of supply chain issues and inflation.
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