Feeding kids when schools are closed can be expensive! My household’s grocery bills are pretty high right now, and I was glad to hear that Massachusetts was distributing another round of Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) funds for September 2020.
Like many families with school-aged children in our area, we received a P-EBT card in the mail last spring, so I pulled it out and put some time into investigating how this program works. Here’s what I learned:
What is P-EBT?
Basically it’s “food money” that’s pre-loaded on a special debit card. You can use a P-EBT card at most stores that sell food, and at some online stores, too.
In broader terms, P-EBT is a federal pandemic relief program designed to fight child hunger by directing funds to households with school-age children. It’s administered at the state level, and ties into existing systems such as the National School Lunch Program and SNAP.
Learn more here: https://www.map-ebt.org/home
What can be purchased with P-EBT?
So many things! You can use P-EBT funds to buy all sorts of groceries, including fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, bread and cereals, snack foods, and non-alcoholic beverages. You can even buy seeds and plants, if they will produce food for the household to eat! There are no restrictions on brands, producers, or packaging. These rules are the same for SNAP/EBT.
More detailed info here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items
Where can P-EBT cards be used?
A lot of places! At most grocery and convenience stores, you can just swipe the card through the card reader, choose “EBT” as the payment method, type in the 4-digit PIN you chose, and say how much of your funds you want to spend. You can also use P-EBT at many local farmers markets, and you can use it to pay for food online at Walmart or Amazon.
Look for places you can use an EBT card near you: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailer-locator
How much money are we talking about?
This varies depending on the number of children in the household and where they go to school. The base rate for the September 2020 P-EBT is $5.86 for each day school buildings were closed, per student. The maximum per child for September is $128.92.
How do people get the September P-EBT?
If your household received a P-EBT card (or cards) in the mail last spring, or you already have an EBT card, you don’t have to do anything: if your children are eligible, the funds should be added automatically. (In fact, they may already be there!)
If you’ve misplaced your card, you can request a replacement. Here is a form to fill out: https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/pebt. (Call the DTA Assistance Line (877) 382-2363 for help with this.)
Students at schools that are qualified for the Community Eligibility Provision (universal free lunch) this year and households that have recently qualified for SNAP, TAFDC, or MassHealth should get September P-EBT. (The school must have had a delayed start and/or the student must have attended remotely for at least 5 days in a row.) Make sure your child’s school district has an up-to-date free lunch enrollment form for your household, and then call the DTA Assistance Line (877-382-2363) in mid-October if you have not received a card.
For more information, check out this “Use Your Benefits” page: https://www.map-ebt.org/uyb/
How do I activate a P-EBT card?
P-EBT cards have to be assigned a personal identification number (PIN) before they can be used. This is a bit of a hassle, but it takes less than 10 minutes if you can get on the internet and make a phone call. It’s all automated, so you can do it any time.
- Go to https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/PEBT and type in the number of the front of the P-EBT card to get the child’s case #. (If you have a letter that has the case number on it, you can skip this step.)
- You’ll need the number on the front of the card, the last four numbers of the case number, the birthdate of the child whose name is on the card, and the 4-digit number you want to use as a PIN to continue. I wrote these down ahead of time.
- Call the Customer Service # on the back of the card (1-800-997-2555) and follow the recorded instructions. I found this written step-by-step version very helpful! https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/static/media/P-EBTCardPrintInstructionsEN.907205a2.pdf
- Once you have activated the card, you will be able to choose an option that will tell you the balance of funds available on it.
I have more questions!
This Frequently Asked Questions page has lots of helpful information: https://www.map-ebt.org/faqs