BOSTON — Hundreds of thousands of low-income students in Massachusetts will continue to receive food assistance this summer after the federal government approved the state’s request for a final round of disbursements from a pandemic-related, anti-hunger program.
Under the temporary extension of the Pandemic EBT program, known as P-EBT, eligible families with K-12 students will receive a retroactive payment on June 25 for any COVID-19-related school absences between September 2022 through May 11, 2023, according to the state Department of Transitional Assistance, which administers the program.
The amount of payments will depend on the number of COVID-19-related excused absences accrued in a month, as reported by school districts. Families of qualifying students would get $25 a month for 1-5 absences; $82 for 6-15 absences and $147 a month for more than 16 days, the agency said.
Additionally, more than 475,000 qualifying school-age children and their families will receive $120 per student on July 25 as part of a final round of P-EBT payments, according to the agency.
“Food security is essential for the health and wellbeing of our students — and that need doesn’t end just because the school year does,” Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler said in a statement.
Pandemic EBT was created during the pandemic to give food support for children whose access to free and reduced meals provided through school programs may have been disrupted by COVID-19-related school closures. The program is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The cash assistance is provided to families in addition to welfare benefits that recipients already receive on their normal electronic benefit transfer cards.
Acting DTA Secretary Mary Sheehan said the additional food assistance comes as hundreds of thousands of food stamp recipients in the state have seen benefits shrink as a federal pandemic hunger relief program expired.
Sheehan said the final round of disbursements will provide “additional benefits to these families at a time of high food prices, and for the months subsequently following the end of the extra federal and state SNAP benefits.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh said the program provides food security for nearly 500,000 students and their families, “but it also supports our local grocery stores, corner stores, farmers, and their employees.”
The disbursements will be the last round of payments from the EBT program with the federal and state public health emergencies lapsing earlier this month.
The final round of payments comes as Beacon Hill leaders debate plans for a universal free school meal program.
The House of Representatives approved a provision to the state budget for the next fiscal year that would make breakfast and lunch free for all public school students, regardless of their family’s income.
The move would make permanent a pandemic-related policy that provided free school meals for students in the past three years. It would be funded in part by proceeds from the new 4% millionaires’ tax.
But the Senate, which was set to take up its version of the budget on Tuesday, didn’t include the proposal to authorize universal free school meals.
Demand for food stamps and other public assistance skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and remains persistent. As of January, more than 102,000 people in Massachusetts were receiving basic welfare benefits from the state’s main cash assistance program, according to the latest state data.
Meanwhile, an additional 1 million people were getting food stamps as of December, according to the data. That’s more than double the pre-pandemic average of about 450,000 recipients.
The increased demand for public assistance comes with a significant cost for state government, even with the federal pandemic assistance.
In March, Gov. Maura Healey signed a supplemental budget that included $130 million to keep expanded SNAP benefits in place for a several more months.