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Eligible Vt. students to receive $14.7M in food benefits

Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Thousands of Vermont families will soon be getting additional food benefits under a program rolled out this week. A program that caused confusion for some recipients.

Schools have been working to help feed kids throughout the pandemic, including free meals in school and brown paper bag meals going home on weekends for students. And now the state is closing the gap for students who didn’t receive the benefits while learning remotely.

“When it came and I opened it, I said to myself this must be a mistake,” said Burlington resident Ed Adrian, who was surprised to get a letter from the Department for Children and Families saying his family was eligible for a pandemic food benefit. “We have never qualified, fortunately, for free or reduced lunch.”

All students in the Burlington School District are eligible for free meals, but many of the district’s students have been learning remotely and don’t have access to the school meals every day. That’s why Adrian received the letter saying his family will be getting a several hundred dollar benefit.

“The P-EBT program provides an electronic benefit card to eligible households,” Vt. Education Secretary Dan French explained Friday. He says the program, which covers missed meals from September through February, is based on a student’s learning model. Those who are still learning from home will get around $120 a month of federal food benefits. The families of hybrid students will get around $70. Approximately $14.7 million in benefits will be issued to around 22,000 Vermont households covering about 33,000 students. The money will be distributed by the end of the month in the form of EBT cards.

“These benefits are meant to replace the value of school meals that children would have received had they been in school,” French said. While this is a one-time pandemic program, there is a move in Montpelier to make sure all students continue to get access to free meals after things get back to ‘normal.’ The Senate bill aims to make universal meals for all public school students and to create incentives for schools to purchase local foods.

“As we have been doing during the pandemic from a federal waiver, trying to make that permanent,” said Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D- Chittenden County. The proposal would limit the benefit to just breakfast at what Pearson says would be a cost of $6 to $9 million a year. “There are great benefits to learning, to attendance, and to food security if kids know they can get a dependable meal at school -- and removing some of the stigma.”

Meanwhile, thousands of families are getting one-time payments whether they need the money or not. Ed Adrian says his family is not in need, so he plans to spend the free money on groceries, but then write a check to a local food shelf. “I feel like I should give it back somehow, but there is really no mechanism for doing that other than to use the card and donate the money out of your own bank account, which is what I plan on doing,” he said.

The EBT card for the first part of the year will arrive around April 29th. Another benefit for March through June will be issued in July.

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