Alabama Parents Report Problems With School Meal Payment Cards


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Parents across Alabama are reporting problems getting the promised food aid.

Pandemic EBT Payments (P-EBT) for eligible children who did not receive school meals due to virtual or blended learning began rolling out the week of June 7 for meals missed during from August to December 2020 semester. But many parents have had difficulty getting their P-EBT cards in the mail or getting the correct amount.

Hundreds of people have posted to the Alabama Benefits Facebook group saying they received incorrect amounts, received no cards at all, or wondered how the process would go.

“More attention should have been given to this process and our children should have been valued more,” said Sharie Jackson, whose two daughters attend high school in the town of Bessemer. “People say it’s free money, but at the end of the day it’s money we need to feed these children. “

Students who receive free and discounted meals or whose schools participate in Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) are eligible for P-EBT, as are children under 6 who are enrolled in SNAP. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Alabama Department of Human Resources with assistance from the state Department of Education, provides each child with $ 6.82 per day for every day not spent in class. Benefits are calculated on a monthly basis – students who were fully virtual are expected to receive P-EBT cards in the mail with a total of $ 615 for the fall term, while fully hybrid students are expected to receive a total of 367. $.

Read more: Hundreds of dollars in cash for meals in the mail.

While there is a DHR hotline for parents with questions and complaints about P-EBT, many Facebook posts report long wait times and difficulty getting through. The hotline receives an average of 3,500 calls per day, according to the DHR.

Jackson chose for her children to learn virtually because of health issues that made her more likely to fall seriously ill from COVID-19. But when her P-EBT cards arrived in the mail on June 21 and 23, she immediately realized that the two girls had only received the lower hybrid amount.

Jackson said she had called the DHR hotline more than 11 times and never made it. On the twelfth try, she was put on hold for over 30 minutes until someone finally took her information, telling her that they would call back with responses in “three to five days.” When that moment passed, she called back and was told that the staff had no information for her.

It is not clear whether the errors resulted from USDA CEP designations, departmental allocations, individual school record keeping, or a mixture of all three.

Bessemer City is a CEP district, which means schools serve free breakfasts and lunches to all enrolled students and all students are automatically eligible for P-EBT.

The district has provided an average of 6,000 meals a day since the start of the pandemic for pickup from schools and more than 20 additional community sites, according to its child nutrition program.

While parents across the state have the option of having their meals in schools, many still face barriers and P-EBT is helping fill a needed gap.

“Here in Alabama, we have a lot of rural areas that don’t have that kind of access to resources,” said Celida Soto Garcia, Hunger Advocacy Coordinator at Alabama Arise. “We also need to take into account families who live in communities with extremely short-circuited public transport, as well as disabled parents and elderly caregivers.”

P-EBT allows families to purchase food from any store that takes SNAP, which can be convenient for parents who live closer to their local grocery store than their child’s school, or for parents. who are working who are not able to pick up food during the slots provided by the school.

According to the departments responsible for administering the P-EBT in the state, many of the reported errors occurred because schools did not correctly capture whether a child was virtual or hybrid, or because parents failed to correctly understand whether a child was virtual or hybrid. not update their address by the March 31 deadline.

“Everyone goes above and beyond to try to make sure their children are fed despite the hiccups,” said Michael Sibley, director of communications at the Department of Education. “We are trying to distribute this money to the children as quickly as possible and as much as possible.”

Parents say they want to know how officials plan to correct mistakes.

“I want them to at least release information that they know there is a problem and are working hard to fix it,” Jackson said.

Human Resources Department Says Parents With Problems Should Read Press Releases published on their website for more information or call the P-EBT customer service hotline at 1-800-410-5827.

The ministry expects all school-aged children to receive their P-EBT cards by July 15, and children under 6 will have benefits loaded onto their existing EBT cards during the month of July. If a card was sent to a previous address, parents can call the P-EBT hotline to provide a current address and DHR will issue a new one.

Parents who received incorrect amounts can expect the correct amounts to be paid by the end of July or early August, if they notify DHR of the problem by calling the hotline, officials said.

The next phase of P-EBT payments, which will cover January-May 2021, will begin to be distributed at the end of July.

The first cycle of P-EBT for the 2019-20 school year provided more than $ 144 million in benefits to more than 460,000 children. This cycle is expected to provide more than $ 170 million to around 470,000 children, state officials say.

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