One year into the pandemic, our country is wrestling with a historic hunger crisis. Nearly 1 in 6 adults with children report that their household doesn’t have enough food, and between 9 and 12 million children live in a household where children don’t have enough to eat because the household can’t afford it. These numbers are staggering, and heartbreaking. We are experiencing a child hunger crisis that this nation has not seen since the Great Depression, with hunger rates well above at the worst of the 2008-2010 Recession.
Federal nutrition programs have played a critical role amidst the ongoing crisis: Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), a new school meal replacement program, delivered $10.7 billion in food benefits to families in 2020. In September 2020, in recognition of the prolonged impact of the pandemic and the important role that school meals play in feeding students, Congress extended Pandemic EBT through the 2020/2021 school year. Policymakers also added flexibility to address the complex and varied ways schools are delivering virtual and reduced in-person instruction, extended P-EBT eligibility to younger children in child care, and will provide federal funding for all administrative costs of the program.
Newly inaugurated President Biden has also recognized the importance of this new program. One of the many executive orders signed in his first days in office urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase P-EBT benefit amounts for eligible families. The order directed the USDA to “consider issuing new guidance increasing P-EBT benefits by approximately 15% to accurately reflect the costs of missing meals and make it easier for households to claim benefits,” an increase that could provide a family with three children an additional $100 in benefits per month.
With the extension and expansion of P-EBT by Congress and President Biden, and FNS releasing new guidance just last week, states now have a unique opportunity to build upon the successes and challenges of 2020 to more effectively deliver these essential resources for children and families. In this new phase of P-EBT, when families have been waiting for relief for months, how can states plan for the program to quickly reach all eligible families in a human-centered way?
Pandemic EBT Resource Toolkit
Helping states deliver benefits to children and families
While supporting states in the spring delivery of P-EBT, we documented implementation challenges that we saw states encounter while delivering the new program. This time around, though states are more prepared and experienced, many of the complex issues that hampered P-EBT delivery in the spring will persist as states develop new P-EBT plans.
We’ve built a toolkit of resources to share recommendations and promising practices around the implementation of P-EBT—and to support state agencies and partners tasked with the development of P-EBT programs to deliver these benefits to families with urgency, efficacy, equity, cost-effectiveness, and empathy.
The toolkit features resources on:
Service design principles and practices for building a people-centered program
Human-centered design principles help build tools and services that are easy for people to use and interact with, and that in turn help government agencies deliver services quickly and effectively.
Working with vendors on P-EBT benefit delivery
With this extension of P-EBT, many states may choose to partner with external vendors to build new technology solutions for P-EBT delivery. We built a resource to help state administrators facilitate a successful technology build with any chosen IT vendor
Data management and matching
In the first iteration of P-EBT, the issue of data—where it was housed, how accurate or complete it was, how it could be used—proved a big challenge for states implementing this new program. We created a resource that offers effective strategies for using existing student data to issue P-EBT benefits, including: preparing, cleaning, and de-duplifying datasets; common data discrepancies and how to correct for them; and identifying the correct data matching strategy for your state’s specific circumstances.
Community outreach and client support
Delivery of P-EBT benefits requires effective outreach strategies to inform families of the benefit delivery process, sharing consistent, clear communication about what P-EBT is, how these benefits can be obtained, and how to use them. It’s also critical to use varied and diverse communication methods to reach families, especially in times of crisis or increased turbulence. The P-EBT resource toolkit contains specific outreach and client support materials to help states navigate communication and support with families.