Have school-aged children? You may be eligible for grocery benefits during COVID

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students who normally get free or reduced-price meals at school may be eligible for a program to help your family buy groceries. This program is called Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT).

For each day that K-12 schoolchildren lack access to an in-school lunch, P-EBT provides eligible families with $6.82 in benefits per student, per day. These benefits are provided on a card that can be used like a debit card to purchase food at any grocery store that accepts LINK cards. Benefits will be issued starting in March but they will be retroactive to the start of the 2020-2021 school year(August/September); benefits will go through the end of the school year.

P-EBT was offered at the end of the last school year but the application process is different now. To receive P-EBT benefits, your child must be enrolled in free or reduced-price meals or attend a school that provides free meals to all students.

Here is what you need to know to make sure you receive P-EBT benefits:

  • If your child is already enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals OR attends a school that provides meals for free to all students AND your address is up-to-date:
    • Your child will get P-EBT automatically for qualifying days (days when the child lacked access to an in-school meal).
    • Each child will receive their own card with their name on it.
    • Cards will be mailed to you in March.
    • Cards will arrive in an unmarked envelope so please be on the lookout.
    • Families should hold onto their P-EBT card(s) because future benefits will be loaded onto the same card.
  • Families and students experiencing homelessness whose mailing address may be different from their physical address should contact their school’s Students in Temporary Living Situations (STLS) liaison to ensure that the student’s P-EBT card is sent to the correct address. Example: a family is living at a shelter but have their mail sent to a family or friend’s home.
  • You can get your P-EBT card mailed to the school instead, but you must notify the school that you want to do this.
  • If you are new to your school district, your student is not enrolled in free or reduced price meals, OR you recently moved:
    • You must fill out a free or reduced-price school meal application with your school. Your child may be eligible for benefits retroactive to August, but you should complete an application as soon as possible.
    • Please visit your school website or call your school to submit a school meal benefit application.
  • All students are eligible regardless of immigration status
    • P-EBT will not be considered under the public charge rule.
  • Students can still get free meals from school and community sites and get P-EBT, too:
    • Take home meals and P-EBT are separate programs.
    • To find free meal sites near you, text the word “food” or “comida” to: “877-877”
    • You can also visit your school district website to find school meal locations in your area.

Don’t forget: to receive P-EBT benefits, it is important that your address is up-to-date with your school. For more information about P-EBT, please review these frequently asked questions from the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

If you have any additional questions or need assistance, please contact Alyssa Phillips (aphillips@chicagohomeless.org) or Mary Frances Charlton (maryfrances@chicagohomeless.org) of the CCH Law Project. You can also reach our Law Project on our toll-free help line at 1 (800) 940-1119.