Hunger & COVID
Addressing Hunger During Outbreak
There have been significant state and federal responses aimed at addressing hunger during the COVID-19 outbreak. While there is still more to do, here is the latest info about state and federal response to help schools feed students during this closure, help people keep and apply for food assistance and increase funding for these programs.
The ABCs of P-EBT.
Yes, many New Jersey districts are providing meals to families through distribution sites or by delivering to homes. Service varies from district to district. Parents and other caregivers should contact their local school for information on meal distribution.
View Rutgers’ guide to feeding children during unplanned school closings.
Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) is a program to help families buy food for their children who normally would get free or reduced-price meals at school before the closures. You can use P-EBT benefits to purchase food items.
No application is needed, but your child must be enrolled in the federal School Lunch Program to be eligible. Contact your school district for an application if you are not enrolled and may be eligible. The P-EBT program is administered on the state level by NJ Department of Human Services (DHS).
The NJ Department of Human Services has taken several steps to make the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) and other assistance more readily available:
- Waiving the interview requirement,
- Waiving signatures on hardcopy applications,
- Providing additional benefits to households,
- Granting a six-month exemption to recertify for people already receiving SNAP,
- Exempting SNAP and WorkFirst New Jersey recipients from attending work or training programs.
New SNAP Applicants
With county welfare offices largely closed to the public, the New Jersey Department of Human Services is encouraging residents in need to apply for SNAP food assistance or cash assistance online at NJHelps.org. Needed documentation (i.e. pay stubs) or other paperwork can be mailed or faxed. Some county welfare agencies are providing drop boxes outside the offices where applicants can leave documentation.
SNAP provides monthly benefits through Electronic Debt Transfers (EBTs) for recipients to buy food at grocery stores and other retail outlets. For more info, visit NJSNAP.org.
The USDA recently granted permission to New Jersey and other states to allow SNAP recipients to shop online. SNAP recipients can now use their benefits card to shop Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer. This is especially important during the COVID pandemic, allowing SNAP recipients to skip potentially harmful visits to the grocery store.
But it’s also critical during “normal” times. Many recipients must rely on public transportation to get to the grocery store, making shopping difficult. Others have no good grocery store options nearby. And still others, especially seniors, simply lack the ability to go to the store.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for Women Infants and Children, commonly known as WIC, is providing flexibilities to help pregnant women, mothers of young children, infants and toddlers receive assistance. The New Jersey Department of Health, which administers WIC, is has waived requirements that people physically come to the office for initial approvals and re-certifications.
All local agencies are issuing three months worth of checks to participants. Agencies are either mailing those checks or establishing a pick-up time, which is conducted with social distancing in mind.
Even though many schools are serving meals to all children for free during the pandemic, it is still important for parents to complete the school meal applications.
These applications are used for several purposes, including:
- Determine whether a student is eligible to receive free or low-cost school meals,
- Identify students that qualify for Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). This monthly benefit of about $99 is available to students in kindergarten through 12th grade whose school is operating on a remote schedule. Children must be enrolled in the School Lunch Program to be eligible.
- Determine state and federal funding that supports many of your child’s education programs
To make it easier for school districts to serve children during remote learning, the USDA has relaxed a host of rules that normally govern the various child nutrition programs.
Apply for SNAP
Many changes have been made to make it easier to apply for SNAP and to receive more money each month to buy food. SNAP recipients can also now shop online. SNAP is one of the most effective anti-hunger programs during good times and bad.