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JEFFERSON CITY — Families in Missouri who were promised emergency pandemic grocery funds last summer are still waiting — even as another summer begins.
For more than six months, families have been alarmed by the delay in benefits due to approximately 600,000 children.
There is no clear end in sight in Missouri.
Pandemic EBT is a federal program administered by the states. Last summer, it was designed to provide a one-time deposit of $391 per eligible child in grocery benefits to help low-income families. Benefits, like the federal food stamp program, could be used like a debit card, called an electronic benefit transfer, to purchase eligible food.
The additional benefits could easily double the amount a low-income family receives in standard food assistance. Missouri’s average benefit amount per household on food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was just under $400 in March.
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For months, Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which administers the benefits, told The Independent that benefits were on the horizon – or that there was no timetable for when. they would be paid.
In October, the ministry announced that they would be distributed by the end of 2022.
In February, a department spokeswoman said “we don’t have a set timeline” but expected benefits to be handed out “in the coming weeks.”
This week, in an email to a mother who provided correspondence to The Independent, an education department official wrote: ‘We continue to work with (the Department of Social Services) to ensure that child benefits been processed, but we don’t have an exact date at this time.”
In a statement this week to The Independent, the department said: ‘Teams are in the final stages of testing data files so that the (Department of Social Services) system can administer summer benefits.
The agency did not provide a timeline.
Children who qualified for subsidized school meals in the 2021-2022 school year are eligible, as well as children under age 6 who are eligible for the federal SNAP food assistance program.
The state has estimated that 454,000 school children and nearly 158,000 children under age 6 are eligible for this benefit.
Many states struggled to get the benefits in time for last summer — in part due to the challenges of managing an emergency program with federal guidelines changing every year, which requires interagency collaboration between social services and education services.
But Missouri appears to be among the few states (if there are any others) with approved P-EBT plans for summer 2022 that have yet to begin distributing benefits.
In each of the eight states bordering Missouri, benefits were already distributed for the summer pandemic EBT earlier this year. Oklahoma began paying the benefits last July.
Missouri’s plan for aid distribution was approved by the federal government in late October, after all but five states were approved and many states finished paying benefits.
Oregon and Georgia had their plans approved in late October, like Missouri. But unlike Missouri, Georgia began distributing profits in December; Oregon started in March.
Two states, South Dakota and Alaska, had no approved plans.
One of the biggest obstacles to getting benefits faster, officials said, was that the state needed a new data collection portal to track student absences related to COVID, for benefits. the school year.
Pandemic EBT includes a more targeted benefit for the 2021-22 school year for children who have had COVID-related absences — which the state has said must administer before summer benefits and involves more data collection. complicated on the part of the schools.
Mallory McGowin, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said they began paying school year benefits from February, and “now that school year benefits have been primarily administered (there is still a data cleanup) DESE and DSS teams have moved to the summer benefit program McGowin said they believe they will work with school staff year-round to “address any potential challenges” with the data.
One mother still waiting for her benefits is Jennifer Sheils, whose desperation has grown as the months of waiting have grown.
“Where are the funds made available? It’s almost summer 2023,” she wrote in a recent email to the state. “What is going on?”
Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Jason Hancock with any questions: [email protected]. Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.