Jun 16, 2020

State Agencies Outline Next Steps for Approved Families

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana's online application for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program closed on Monday afternoon with nearly 470,800 eligible children signed up to receive benefits to make up for the free and reduced-price meals children missed when school facilities closed to curb the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

These one-time benefits, which total $285 per child, intend to cover 50 school days, from the onset of statewide school facility closures in March through the end of the 2019-2020 academic year. Parents who applied for free meals in May, after the P-EBT program was announced, will receive $91.20 per eligible child, which covers the cost of meals for 16 school days in May.

All families who successfully submitted an application, and therefore were approved, should receive their benefits by mail by the end of the month.

The exact timeline for receiving the benefits will vary depending on when the application was completed. Benefits began arriving last week for families who completed the application by May 25, and families who applied by June 1 were to begin receiving their cards over the weekend. Those who completed the application after May 25 but by June 8 should receive benefits by June 19. Those who applied after June 8 but by the extended June 15 deadline should receive P-EBT cards by June 26.

Benefits, which are pre-loaded onto a debit card, will arrive in a plain white envelope with a return address from Austin, Texas. Instructions on how to activate the card will be included.

Families who follow the instructions and still have trouble activating the card can call the LAHelpU Customer Service Center for assistance at 1-888-524-3578. The hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Applicants can also call the LAHelpU Customer Service Center if they do not receive a P-EBT card in the mail within one week of the estimated delivery date.

Families also have the option of e-mailing to report a card missing and to have a new one mailed. If reaching out by e-mail, applicants should use the subject line "Replacement P-EBT card" and include their name as it appears on the P-EBT application, contact information, date of birth, and if available, the last four digits of their Social Security Number. If a replacement is requested, the original card will be deactivated, and the replacement card will take up to 10 business days to arrive by mail.

P-EBT benefits will be available for 365 days, and the cards may be used at any store that accepts SNAP to buy SNAP-eligible food items.

Louisiana was approved by the federal government to offer the P-EBT program on May 15, and the online application launched on May 18. At that time, 611,430 children were deemed eligible. After the program began and additional families applied for free and reduced-price meals, the number of eligible children increased to 729,507.

All school systems were required to alert eligible families of the program and application process. In addition, the Louisiana Department of Education and Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services shared a digital flyer in four languages, regularly engaged news media and posted to social media, maintained up-to-date web pages with information on the program, and partnered with various advocacy organizations to spread the word about the program.

Moreover, the application deadline was extended by one week, and the LAHelpU Customer Service Center adopted Saturday hours to ensure families who could not receive assistance during the work week could access a customer service representative on the weekend.

Of the total number of eligible families who submitted an application by the June 15 extended deadline, 78 percent applied during the first week the application was available.

Various factors could have influenced the number of families who were eligible but who did not submit an application. Unlike other states offering the federal program, for example, Louisiana could not automatically provide benefits to eligible families because of the state's restrictive data privacy laws for students, so every eligible family was required to submit an application. In addition, Louisiana has a large number of Community Eligibility Provision schools at which every child, regardless of their family's income, receives free and reduced-price meals at school.

Families seeking information about additional school meals programs should contact their local school systems. Many school systems continue to provide emergency meals to children regardless of income or enrollment. The P-EBT benefits do not compete with other school meals programs.

Families who need food assistance can also call 211 to inquire about food pantries and other available resources in their communities.

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