Michigan issued Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to families across the state during the coronavirus pandemic to help those who depend on free and reduced price lunches in public schools.
But in many school districts, the EBT cards are going out to all students, exposing a loophole in the National School Lunch Program known as the “Community Eligibility Provision.”
To ensure families in need would still receive assistance with meals, the state began issuing Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to all families whose children are eligible for free- or reduced-lunch at school.
But in 273 of Michigan’s districts, families are getting cash-loaded EBT cards regardless of how much money they make.
The news site explains the Community Eligibility Program allows schools or districts where at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals to make them available to all students for “free.”
“The goal is to reduce the stigma of government-provided lunch by making it the same for everybody,” according to the news site.
“Districts don’t have to participate – and schools actually lose out on some funding if less than 62.5% of students are eligible, said Diane L. Golzynski, director of the Office of Health and Nutrition Services at the Michigan Department of Education.”
Bob Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told the news site the EBT cards are loaded with just under $100 per month families can use for food. If wealthy families don’t want the money, they can buy groceries and donate them to a food back, or cut up the card and not activate the pin number.
“There’s a lot of families that were struggling to put food on the table to begin with. That’s been exacerbated by COVID-19,” Wheaton said. “We thought it was important to be able to do whatever we can to help those families get nutritional food.”
The EBT cash isn’t how the National School Lunch Program typically operates, but special approvals and waivers created by Congress through the Families First Act and CARES Act made it all possible.
“The Families First Act allowed states to provide electronic cash benefits to students otherwise eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals,” according to the Teachers College of Columbia University. “School districts that implement the Community Eligibility Provision can provide benefits to all students. Families may receive around $114 per child per month.”
The CARES Act included $9 billion for school meal programs.
“This pandemic-specific EBT program in Michigan costs more than $330 million, to provide the funds to 895,000 students’ families,” Mlive reports. “More than 500,000 of them hadn’t been getting EBT funds, before this program, Wheaton said.”