Low-income families of public school students who missed out on free school meals in August and September, when campuses remained closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, will receive a second round of funding to replace the food aid, the state Human Services and Public Education Departments announced Monday.
Nearly 244,000 students who qualify for federal free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch — more than 70 percent of public school students statewide — will receive more than $45 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program. That means each child will receive about $185.
In the first round of the federal program, the state distributed more than $104 million in May to families of almost 350,000 children — or about $300 per child — for meals missed from March 16, when the pandemic prompted school closures, until June 19.
The P-EBT program is aiding thousands of children in Santa Fe. Veronica García, superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools, said the benefit, which comes to $5.86 per child per day, will directly reach families in a way the district’s meal distribution programs have not.
“The participation in our meal programs during the pandemic has not been what I’d like it to be. Access to hot meals and salad bars is one of the reasons I want to bring kids back,” García said, referring to a plan to reopen elementary schools on a hybrid model, which would combine in-person learning on campus with remote learning at home.
The district now serves an average of 829 free lunches and breakfasts each day through campus distribution efforts and along bus routes.
“Last year at the same time, we were doing an average of 7,111 meals per day for lunch and 2,749 breakfasts,” García said.
Still, she said, the federal aid will help families struggling for food.
“This will help get money directly to families,” Garcia said. “This is cash in their pockets.”
Two-thirds of recipients, who already received a P-EBT card, should receive the new benefit in early October, while other families will have to wait to be issued a card, which could take several weeks, according to a news release from the Human Services Department.
The benefit is distributed to families regardless of immigration status.
Under federal guidelines, if qualifying students don’t have access to school meals for five straight days, they are eligible for the benefit.
For more information about the benefit, call the Human Services Department at 800-283-4465 or the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Hotline at 505-660-4822.