Some families in Wisconsin may miss out on COVID-19 related food assistance payments, called P-EBT, dollars if they don’t apply for the benefit by October 8.

To date, Wisconsin has provided $211 million to families of 291,000 children for the 2020-21 school year and $157 million to families of over 417,000 children for summer benefits, according to the Wisconsin Department of Human Services (DHS).

But many eligible Racine County families have not received the benefit. 

In Racine County, about 1,200 eligible students from over 600 families have yet to receive a debit card for use at grocery stores for up to a year. The benefit can total up to $1,500 per student for the 2020-21 school year and summer school depending on how many days the school district required students to learn remotely or the child was in quarantine due to COVID-19, said Sherrie Tussler, executive director for the Hunger Task Force. 

Tussler explained that people who have not received the benefit are people of income who don’t know about the benefit or maybe don’t need or want the help.

“We know that these are kids that were not known to the state, which means that they were not on Medicaid or Foodshare,” Tussler said. “We know that they are school-aged children. So what it means is that they are kids from families that didn’t need government assistance before the pandemic. Because they weren’t known to the state incentive system, no one had their address.”

But state officials say they have a plan to address the issue.

“We are sending out an additional group release of Summer P-EBT benefits on October 23. This issuance will capture any children who were not yet known to be eligible in time for inclusion in the previous benefits sent out on August 21,” according to Elizabeth Goodsitt, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

About the program

Funded through the federal government, Federal Legislators passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in December 2020. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction collaborates with the Department of Health Services (DHS) to administer the program. But DHS issues the payments. The food assistance program — called the pandemic-EBT payment — gives up to $6.82 per day per student to families for the 2020-21 school year. Families are eligible to receive the benefit if they qualify for free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program or if their school confirms that the child learned from home for at least part of the 2020-21 school year.

All Racine Unified students qualify for the benefit because the Racine Unified School District participates in the Community Eligibility Provision Program. That means the district has a high percentage of children in poverty. Because of the designation, all students receive free breakfast and lunch. So all Racine Unified students are eligible for P-EBT Benefits regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.

District officials say families haven’t voiced concerns

However, officials with the Racine Unified School District say they are not hearing concerns from RUSD families about the payments.

“Families who are already on Food Share should automatically receive the benefits on their Quest Cards. The district has provided the necessary information to DHS for this to happen,” said Cheryl Herman, food service coordinator for RUSD. “For other families who need to apply for the benefit, there could be varying reasons why they are not doing so. 

“But I don’t want to make assumptions. When a family contacts us with questions about this benefit, we’re able to respond quickly to ensure they have what they need to apply and receive the benefit.” 

Time is running out for 2020-21 school year benefits

To sign up, parents have until October 8 to apply for the P-EBT program for the 2020-21 school year. 

To apply by phone, parents can call the Department of Health Services at (833) 431-2224.

With the beginning of the 2021-22 school year comes a new benefit year.

Children still home doing virtual school because they need to be quarantined, or those who wanted to go virtual, for whatever reason, will also be eligible for P-EBT funds in the 2021-22 school year.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.