This Op Ed appeared in the El Paso Times on July 10, 2020
P-EBT food benefit program extended through July: Susan Goodell
Susan Goodell, Guest columnist
July 10, 2020
El Paso Times
It is called Pandemic-EBT, or P-EBT. Last week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced the program's extension to July 31st. But what exactly is P-EBT? It is a food benefit program made available to families with school-age children who, pre-COVID-19, relied on free or reduced-price meals at school. The COVID—19 pandemic has forced schools to close across the country, sending children home and adding additional burden to already struggling families to find ways to feed their children. For too many families, their financial position was already fragile. There is no doubt that this health crisis has compounded the problem with job losses and business and school closures. HHSC's partnership with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) ensures, via this $1 Billion federal program, that the gap is filled when it comes to providing students access to healthy and nutritious meals at home.
P-EBT is a one-time benefit for families in the amount of $285 (per eligible child) that provides the ability to replace these meals. Children 5-21 years of age either enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or who previously received meals through the National School Lunch Program during the 2019-2020 school year are eligible for the new program. For families receiving SNAP benefits, no application is required, and funds are loaded directly onto their current Lone Star debit cards; for those families not currently enrolled in SNAP, funds will be loaded onto a debit card and mailed directly to the family. It is important to note that a family's eligibility for other benefits will not be affected by receiving this benefit.
In any given month, families experiencing financial hardship face tough decisions in stretching their household dollars. Many times, they have to ask themselves if they can pay their rent or mortgage, utility bills, or maintenance, repairs, or fuel for their vehicle. But what about food? The most sobering realization is that one or more of these needs cannot be met and may need to be put aside in order to put food on the table. This is a very real situation that our neighbors find themselves in as 31% of the children in El Paso County live below the poverty line; the extension of the P-EBT program allows more time for families to ensure that, if they are eligible, they have ample time to receive the benefit and feed their children.
What about the Food Bank?
In so many corners of the City and County of El Paso, El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank (EPFH) is standing ready and committed to help. As we battle the social, mental, physical and economic effects of the pandemic, EPFH and its agency partners, staff and volunteers work tirelessly to coordinate the effort to feed anyone in need, especially our most vulnerable residents. As such, EPFH has implemented a home delivery pilot program that seeks to provide wholesome food to members of the community who are unable to leave their homes. In particular, those quarantined due to a pending or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 or the elderly or disabled who struggle with barriers to mobility.
Lines begin forming as the sun is rising and volunteers spend the next 10-12 hours gently placing boxes of healthy and nutritious food in the open trunks and truck beds of vehicles; all the while, strictly adhering to health and social distancing guidelines. The process is both tactical and strategic, and always with the well-being of those we serve as the priority. In an extra effort to get help to as many El Paso County residents as possible, EPFH also hosts SNAP Coordinators to assist families and individuals who wish to apply for benefits; all in a safe and compassionate environment.
Please visit https://elpasoansfightinghunger.org/ to get help or give help. There you will find opportunities to donate time as a volunteer or make a monetary donation. You will also find distribution site schedules and details on resources and programs.