The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) announced the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) authorized DES to provide Arizona P-EBT Pandemic School Meal Replacement Benefits to households with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
There are nearly 600,000 students receiving free or reduced-price school meals in Arizona, including 186,000 students already receiving Nutrition Assistance, who will be eligible for these benefits. Households will receive benefits equivalent to one free lunch and one free breakfast for each eligible child.
“We are working to ensure no Arizona kid goes hungry during the COVID-19 health emergency,” said Governor Ducey. “Schools across the state have worked hard to get nutritious meals to kids while schools are closed, and this program will build on those efforts and provide additional relief to families struggling at this time. My thanks to the Department of Economic Security, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service and everyone working to support Arizona’s most vulnerable.”
“School meal programs have done an amazing job in ensuring students have access to nutritional meals while schools are closed due to the pandemic,” said Tom Betlach, from the Office of the Director. “These resources provide additional support for student nutrition and expand families’ options for healthy food for their children.”
Benefits will first be distributed to the majority of existing eligible Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households this week via their existing accounts. DES will also coordinate with the Arizona Department of Education to identify eligible households who do not already participate in SNAP; those households will receive Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards with benefits beginning in early May. For families whose children participated in the free or reduced-price school lunch program, but have not received notification, DES will create a web application for them to submit their information to the Department for processing.
The benefits will be retroactive to March 16, 2020, and are calculated based on the number of school days for which the child would have received assistance from school meal programs. Eligible families will receive $69 for March, $126 in April, and $120 in May, for each child. Families that have been accessing meals from schools during the closure are still eligible for these benefits.
In addition to Pandemic School Meal Replacement Benefits, eligible SNAP households will receive the maximum amount of benefits allotted for their household size for April and May, in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Supplemental payments for April have been issued this week and will continue through next week. Nearly 200,000 households qualify for this increased allotment. Households will also see the maximum benefit allotment during the regular May disbursement.
In addition to the efforts outlined above to strengthen food security among Arizonans, Governor Ducey and DES have submitted several requests to FNS to streamline and enhance access for families. To date, the federal agency has authorized the following changes:
- Allowing SNAP participants to make online purchases for grocery items with authorized SNAP retailers;
- Waiving interview requirements when determining eligibility, unless more information is needed from the applicant;
- Temporarily suspending work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents participating in SNAP;
- Extending certification periods by 6 months for recipients due to renew benefits in March, April and May; and
- Allowing for verbal attestation in place of a signature on SNAP applications when necessary.
DES will continue to work with federal partners to provide greater assistance to Arizona families in need. To apply for Nutrition Assistance, visit healthearizonaplus.gov or call 1-855-432-7587, 7am-6pm Monday through Friday.