Before the pandemic shuttered schools, 3.8 million K-12 students were eligible for free or reduced school lunches across the state.
In March, the U.S. Congress authorized Pandemic-EBT, a program to replace school meals with grocery money. A month later, Newsom announced eligible children would get a one-time payment of up to $365 each. Those who already receive assistance from the state would receive the money automatically. The rest needed to apply online.
California partnered with Code for America, a non-profit that works to modernize government services, to create a remarkably user-friendly application, receiving 1.3 million student applications to date.
While California has already issued P-EBT cards to 3.1 million children, getting to the last 20% of eligible children has been a challenge.
It’s essentially a data management problem, said Tracey Patterson, a senior project manager at Code for America. Parents continue to apply for free and reduced lunch at their school. School districts continually send new lists of eligible children to the state’s education agency. P-EBT applications only get approved if the child’s name shows up on that list.
“There is this giant circle of comparing lists that are constantly being updated on a daily and weekly basis,” Patterson said. In contrast, other states like Michigan and Rhode Island already had “very strong data management and infrastructure pre-crisis” that made distributing the money easy.
The state’s webpage for the program says there is a “delay in processing applications for P-EBT due to the high volume of people who need help during the pandemic” and asks parents to stop calling for answers. “You will hear back from us with your final eligibility status by July 30th,” it states.
Apply with California’s Department of Social Services here. The deadline has been extended from June 30 to July 15.