11,650 children in the CNMI will be eligible
Starting today, Monday, the Child Nutrition Program of the Public School System’s will be handing students the applications for the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or P-EBT, a federal program that will provide the Marianas an estimated $11.1 million that will benefit approximately 11,650 children.
Speaking at a radio news briefing last Friday, PSS Child Nutrition Program manager Dale Roberts and Nutrition Assistance Program administrator Walter Macaranas said that PSS and NAP are partnering to administer the P-EBT program.
Meanwhile, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) disclosed over the weekend in his e-kilili newssletter that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the Marianas plan to provide an estimated $11.1 million to approximately 11,650 Marianas children through the P-EBT program.
“This is great news for Marianas families with children who would have otherwise received a free or reduced-price school lunch were it not for COVID-19 closures,” Sablan said.
The delegate said the PSS and DCCA will issue P-EBT benefits through printed coupons to households with eligible children.
Macaranas said this is not necessarily a DCCA program all by itself as they are only partnering with PSS Child Nutrition Program.
Macaranas said under the Family’s First Coronavirus Response Act, a P-EBT program was installed in the law where benefit will be provided to children who lost access to school meals.
“And so because the Child Nutrition Program provides school meals, they are part of this program. So we’re working in tandem, and we’re working in partnership [with Child Nutrition Program],” he said.
Macaranas said the program’s beneficiaries are divided into the school-aged children cluster and young children cluster. School-aged children are essentially the ones that are enrolled in school, and that could cover from pre-school to grade 12. For the young children cluster, that would be children who are in childcare and children under 6 years old.
Macaranas said that children have to be NAP recipients to receive P-EBT benefits.
He said the applications, which will be given to the students, need to be submitted to the Child Nutrition Program Office on Capital Hill Building 1251 or at the NAP office in As Lito.
The administrator said the role of the Child Nutrition Program of the Public School System is to determine eligibility, while and the role for NAP is to distribute those benefits.
Macaranas said they’re looking at end of June as their distribution date.
He said they are going to be handing out the benefits on a staggered basis and not in one lump sum because they don’t want to overwhelm stores. “With all these purchases, all the stores will have their shelves emptied out,” he said.
He said they are going to distribute in June the benefits for the months of August to November. In July they will be distributing the benefits for December through March. In August they will distribute benefits for the months of April to June.
Roberts said parents are allowed to pick up the applications, but PSS is still going to be distributing them to the children when they’re in school this week. “So the parents don’t need to feel they have to rush to a school to pick up an application,” Roberts said. “There’s no hurry to run and get an application. They’re coming to the house.”
He said there’s a fact page that’s going to be posted on the PSS website and also on the NAP website that has the answers to a lot of the most important questions. There is also an information sheet that’s going to be available with each one of the applications when they pick it up.
“We’re looking at distributing over a three-month period about $10 million in food stamp benefits directly to the families for the kids that missed school meals during the pandemic. And this stretches back from August all the way until June,” Roberts said. He said it is a massive amount of money so they really want to make sure that they get it right.
Roberts said when the applications are filled out and submitted, their office will be doing the verification and there is no income requirement for this.
“Anybody can apply for this. Anybody who has kids in school is eligible for benefits. The only difference in how much benefit you may get will depend on what school you go to and how many days that school was closed during the pandemic,” he said.
For example, Roberts said, PSS students were not in school for an appreciable amount of time until the beginning of February. “They were doing lots of virtual classes. While some of the private schools, they really only closed their doors for maybe the month of August. And then they found ways to get back face to face starting in September,” he said.
So those private school students, Roberts said, will not get the same benefits that the PSS children will get because those children that went back to school in September were already getting fed breakfast and lunch at school.
Roberts said the process starts today, Monday, but he would ask families to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to seek the applications out because students will be bringing them home this week. With the PSS schedule, half the students are going to school on Tuesday and another half is going on Wednesday.
Roberts said application period ends on June 11.
Roberts estimated that it looks as though each one of the public school children will get a little bit over $900 worth of coupons.
“So imagine if you’re a family of four, you’re looking at about $3,600 or $3,700 over the course of the summer,” he said.