After the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, many Idaho students were left without their regular school meals. Now, a program approved by Congress is providing about $300 to families to make up for those meals they missed.
Students who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals as of March 23 have been automatically enrolled in the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT, program.
Kirsten Pochop, policy analyst with Idaho Voices for Children, said "Pandemic EBT is just really a win-win, because it's really great for Idaho kids and then, it's also a big boost for the economy. We're expecting $39 million of funds that will go from this program directly into Idaho retailers."
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is distributing benefits through the end of September. About 130,000 students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in the 2019-2020 school year.
Becky Elmore, president of the Idaho School Nutrition Association, lives in the Coeur d'Alene area. She said getting a meal is crucial to a child's day at school.
"Whether it's remotely or if it's in a classroom setting, that lack of nutrition does have a big impact on their ability to learn," Elmore said.
Pochop added this program also is critical because Idaho is seeing record food insecurity among children.
"It brings nutrition supports directly to the family, so they can go to the store and purchase food when they're able to," Pochop said.
If families already receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the funds will be added to their EBT card. If not, they'll receive a card in the mail. More information is online at Idahopebt.org.