Georgia trims application window for students’ one-time food benefit

Chattahoochee County School District teachers, cafeteria workers and other staffers packaged free meals for delivery to students last spring after schools closed due to COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED
Chattahoochee County School District teachers, cafeteria workers and other staffers packaged free meals for delivery to students last spring after schools closed due to COVID-19. CONTRIBUTED

After delays caused Georgia to launch its pandemic food stamp program months after other states, the agency in charge of disbursing the money has shortened the window to apply online for the benefits.

Applications to receive a maximum one-time payment of about $250 per child will be accepted through Sept. 18 — one week earlier than the original deadline.

Officials with the Division of Children and Family Services said that although the application window has been shortened, families will not miss out on the benefits if they are qualified. DFCS officials said they will manually issue the money to every family that is eligible but unable to apply online.

Only families who do not already receive food stamp benefits need to apply to the federal Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer program. Applying is necessary to receive the EBT card that is used to receive and spend the money.

The parents or guardians of a little more than 1 million of Georgia’s roughly 1.8 million k-12 students are qualified for the money through the program.

The P-EBT program is the result of the federal coronavirus stimulus package that passed in March.

It got off to a slow start in Georgia. DFCS officials said it took the agency time to create the technology and system to help them identify all the children who qualified for P-EBT, including those who were not already receiving food stamps.

It is meant to feed any child from a household with income low enough to qualify last spring for the free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches at schools.

The income threshold for that program is generally higher than the threshold for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, through which the one-time payments are being channeled beginning this month.

So some parents have to sign up with DFCS to get it even though they were already registered for low- or no-cost meals through their school.

Federal guidelines estimate food costs at about $5.70 per child per day in school meal programs. Multiplying that by the 45 days students missed at the end of the school year means families will receive $256.50 per child.

Eligible families can apply for P-EBT online at https://dfcs.georgia.gov/pandemic-electronic-benefit-transfer