Is P-EBT the Same As SNAP?

P-EBT provides benefits, similar to SNAP, to children in households that would have received free and reduced-price school meals if schools had not been closed or operating with reduced attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, States issued P-EBT benefits into household's existing EBT accounts.

As tens of millions of children went hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress and USDA took steps to support household nutrition. In March 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act created the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (Pandemic EBT) program, which allows families to receive additional SNAP benefits on their existing EBT cards. The December 2022 COVID relief law made it easier for states to implement P-EBT and expanded eligibility to include preschool-aged children. We find that, in states where it was implemented, receipt of Pandemic EBT reduced food hardship for low-income families with children and lifted 2.7-3.9 million children out of hunger.

Other policies enacted in response to the pandemic, including rental eviction moratoria and new SNAP benefit amounts, also significantly reduced poverty and food hardship. Despite these successes, much work remains to be done. For example, better alignment of SNAP eligibility with income levels that substantially increase the risk of food insecurity and slower phase-out periods for benefits as incomes rise are essential. In addition, addressing the persistent racial and ethnic disparities in poverty and food insecurity must be a priority.

What is P-EBT
Is P-EBT the Same As SNAP? 1

What is P-EBT?

The P-EBT food benefits program provides supplemental funds for households with children that would have received free or reduced-price school meals under the National School Lunch Program if schools and child care facilities were not closed and operating with reduced in-person attendance during the ongoing national COVID-19 public health emergency. Households receive money on a new or existing EBT card that they can use to buy food at stores.

States implemented a process whereby the P-EBT benefits are issued into households’ existing EBT accounts to provide the most expeditious implementation possible. While the issuance process was intended to be temporary, this approach effectively co-mingled SNAP and P-EBT benefits. As a result, SNAP households and firms were unable to tell the difference between SNAP and P-EBT for benefit issuance and redemption purposes.

The OTDA has begun to mail P-EBT cards to eligible households, including those who have missed school and/or childcare due to the ongoing public health emergency. In some cases, families may need to wait a few weeks before they are able to activate their cards and begin using them. Families are encouraged to check their state’s website to determine when they will be able to get their P-EBT cards.

Where Can I Use My P-EBT Card?

Eligible families can use the P-EBT cards at most local stores that accept SNAP and other types of benefits. The cards are loaded with money that can be spent like a debit card. Retailers are required to treat these cards the same as SNAP benefits, and the cardholder can purchase eligible foods. Families can also use the P-EBT card at many school and community meal sites. If they have questions about these programs, they can call United Way’s 211. Families can also find additional resources through the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

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