P-EBT, rapid school actions keep Alabama children fed

Six months ago, COVID-19 forced school officials to reinvent public education on the fly. For more than 400,000 Alabama students, the stakes were more than academic. School closures also threatened their daily nutrition.

Schools’ responses were encouraging and fast. Last spring, Alabama quickly adopted federal options to serve multiple meals at once and offer them outside of the usual group settings. Child nutrition professionals hustled to provide school meals at local “grab-and-go” sites or by home delivery. Community eligibility, which lets schools with high poverty rates opt to provide no-cost meals for everyone, eased distribution by removing cumbersome eligibility verification.

In April, Alabama was one of the first states to adopt a new USDA plan called Pandemic EBT. P-EBT sends the value of school breakfasts and lunches ($5.70 per day) directly to eligible families on an EBT card. Payments were retroactive for March and April and continued through May 29. Families still can spend P-EBT credits through Dec. 31.

This summer, schools provided ongoing nutrition support through the regular Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option. The USDA has allowed both programs to continue through Dec. 31. But the best solution would be for Congress to extend P-EBT through the 2020-21 academic year. It’s less complicated and more effective than forcing schools to figure out how to get meals to children learning remotely. The House voted Tuesday to renew P-EBT for a full year, and the Senate should quickly do the same.