On January 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released new guidance following changes made by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and President Biden’s executive order asking USDA to increase and expand federal food benefits. The guidance reflects an increase in Pandemic-EBT benefits and expanded eligibilities designed to ease the administrative burden on states, local governments and families grappling with the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent efforts to increase federal nutrition benefits will not only relieve pressure on state and county social service systems, but also help our residents weather economic hardship and provide an important bridge for children who typically receive meals through federal school nutrition programs.
As the pandemic continues, food insecurity levels have increased by roughly 65 percent in households with children. Last spring, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Package which created the Pandemic-EBT program, a program that aims to replace free and subsidized meals kids would normally receive at school. With many schools remaining closed across the country, children have lost access to the free or reduced-price meals served in those settings.
The recent actions by Congress, President Biden and the USDA aim to bolster the program by expanding eligibility to low-income families with children under the age of six and applying a temporary 15 percent benefit increase to the Pandemic-EBT program. The changes unveiled by the USDA allow states to simplify how they figure out which children are eligible for benefits and how to get P-EBT benefits to children who are younger than school age. Additionally, the USDA is encouraging states to retroactively apply the new, higher benefit, meaning that if a family already received P-EBT aid for August and September, they could receive upwards of $20 more per child, per month.
County governments fund and operate a variety human services programs, often functioning as the front line of the social safety net and investing $58 billion annually in federal, state and local dollars in services that promote the health and wellbeing of vulnerable children and families. Given the negative impact that food insecurity can have on children’s health and learning, it is critical for counties to work with our federal partners to implement evidence-based policies that address and prevent food insecurity and poverty.
Counties applaud federal efforts to support and protect our most vulnerable residents as we continue to grapple with the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. NACo supports additional state and local aid in future relief packages and will continue to monitor developments in nutrition and anti-poverty programs. To learn more about how county governments can prevent food insecurity, register for the NACo’s February 5th webinar, Fighting Food Insecurity During COVID-19 and Beyond: Updates for County Leaders.
- USDA State Guidance on Coronavirus Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)
- USDA P-EBT Guidance for Schools and Child Care
- USDA P-EBT Assistance for Children in Schools and Child Care
- USDA State Plan for Pandemic EBT
- NACo Blog: President Biden signs executive order to increase federal food benefits and expedite stimulus checks
- NACo Analysis: Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021