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Families in West Virginia have begun receiving their Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) cards in the mail.

HUNTINGTON — By early next week, more than 230,000 West Virginia students will receive $313 each in federal aid to account for meals they would have received, had school remained in session during spring.

The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) cards essentially reimburse families for free or reduced-price meals their children would have been eligible for during the months of March, April and May, and account for additional grocery costs.

“This was in the first round of legislation as far as coronavirus response from the federal government, and what it does is it creates a reimbursement system to children who would have had access to free or reduced-price meals if schools didn’t close due to coronavirus,” said Amanda Harrison, executive director of the West Virginia Department of Education Office of Child Nutrition.

“It’s an EBT card, and if a child attended a school or institution that participated in the federal school lunch program, or if that student qualified or had access to free or reduced-price meals, then they are automatically eligible for this benefit.”

Forty-three out of 55 state counties, including Cabell County, are Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) counties, which means free meals are served to all public school students daily.

All students in those counties will automatically receive a pre-loaded P-EBT card in the mail by June 30, and families who already have EBT cards will see the money added to their existing cards.

Ten of the state’s counties do not participate countywide but instead have CEP schools based on need. Only two counties, including Putnam County, do not participate in the program whatsoever.

However, Putnam County students, or any who attend a school that does not provide free lunches to every child, who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals will automatically receive the benefits.

Children who attend non-public schools that provide free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program are also eligible for the P-EBT.

Because this is a new initiative, Harrison said some families who reside in those 43 CEP counties, like Cabell, whose children receive free meals regardless of need may be confused on what the card can be used for or if it can be passed on to someone else who it might better benefit.

“Unfortunately, due to federal law, you just can’t pass your card over to someone else,” Harrison said. “If a household were to receive a benefit card that they do not want or need, the guidance is to not activate the card and to destroy it. Unused funds will be sent back to the federal treasury, and the cards cannot be donated to someone else, per federal law.”

Further guidance can be found in a notification letter sent to families alerting them to watch for the card’s arrival, or online at wvde.us/covid19/wv-pebt.

Harrison also said usage of the cards will not impact any other benefits families currently receive and there will be no penalties for use of the card.

In addition, students who have been taking advantage of meal programs through their county during the duration of the pandemic will still have access to the funds.

Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe said the district will continue serving meals each day and throughout the summer as families begin to receive their cards.

“We continue to serve Monday through Friday, every day of the week. We continue to provide free meals, which are inclusive of a lunch and a breakfast for the next day,” Saxe said. “We’ve been averaging about 10,000 meals per day in Cabell County since school has let out.”

Distribution of the cards is through the Department of Health and Human Resources. Harrison advised families to wait until the end of the month to file a complaint for missing cards.

“We’re asking them to come back to the department’s website on June 30 and there will be a portal that opens up where they can actually submit a claim to investigate their case. We’re asking them to wait until that hard deadline from the DHHR so we can actually look into the case-by-case scenarios,” Harrison said. “We know folks are anxious and maybe a little confused, but rest assured, the benefits that are owed to them through this program will reach them.”

Follow reporter Hanna Pennington via Twitter @hpennHD.

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