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PA Families Will Get More Than $1 Billion To Make Up For Lost School Meals

Jessica Kourkounis
Keystone Crossroads

State officials have received federal approval for a plan to send more than $1 billion in federal food assistance to Pennsylvania schoolchildren, though families will not see any funds for about six more weeks.

Pandemic-EBT benefits aim to make up for the loss of breakfasts and lunches kids would have eaten at schools.

The state aims to distribute the aid – $84 million per month to the families of about 928,000 kids – in three rounds.

Because many schools are still not offering in-person instruction, and others are offering it only on some days to some students, that made the plan more challenging for state administrators to figure out.

We had to develop a plan for not only students who are attending their schools remotely, but also students who have what are called hybrid or blended models where they have some days in person and some days not in person," said Cathy Buhrig, director of policy in the Office of Income Maintenance of the state Department of Human Services. "So, we needed to develop a calculation for how we would provide benefits to those students."

There were also challenges collecting data from Pennsylvania’s hundreds of school districts, said Ann Sanders, policy advocate at anti-hunger nonprofit Just Harvest.

I would say that one of the downsides of sort of letting every school district be sort of like their own, do their own thing all of the time, and not have things be centrally located is that our data systems vary widely across schools and schools can track things differently. And so without that sort of centralized bit... it takes a lot longer to do things like this and to get information together,” Sanders said.

“It’s a huge adjustment to have a kid at home eating all the time,” said Dorit Sasson, of Pittsburgh, whose teenage son has been home from Pittsburgh Public Schools.  

The first round of benefits will go to families in late April or early May for the period of September 1 through November of last year. The second round will be distributed in early June for the period of December through February of 2020, and the third round of payments will be distributed in mid-July for the period of March, April and May of this year.

For families that already receive other public benefits, they will be added electronically to that household’s card. For other families, they will receive a card in the mail.

A survey last year by Feeding America found food insecurity in southwestern Pennsylvania has increased 42% since 2018, due to the pandemic and its economic impact; food insecurity among children is up 57%.

“Knowing that help is on the way will be a relief for a lot of people,” Sasson said.

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Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.