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More than 5,000 students in the Jefferson City School District may qualify for benefits to help cover the cost of meals they ate while home during the pandemic.

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, low-income families can receive up to $302 per child in Pre-K though 12th grade to buy groceries. The families receive the benefits through a Missouri Department of Social Services' Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer card.

Qualifications for the benefit are based on income and whether the students in the family receive free and reduced-price lunch. Families who qualify can receive the benefit even if they received meals from the school district during the closure.

The amount of P-EBT benefits that families receive will depend on each family's eligibility. P-EBT eligibility criteria can be found at dese.mo.gov.

As of May 29, 5,006 JC Schools students received free or reduced-price meals, Director of School Nutrition Dana Doerhoff said.

Of those students, 1,180 are located in Community Eligibility Provision schools. CEP allows schools with the highest poverty levels to serve free meals to all enrolled students without collecting applications. In JC Schools, CEP schools include East, Callaway Hills, South and Thorpe Gordon elementary schools. There are 3,826 students who do not attend CEP schools and receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Families who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, benefits in March do not need to apply for the P-EBT cards because the maximum amount for their household size will automatically be put on their existing EBT cards through the Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or P-SNAP.

Normally, the amount that people receive from food stamps is determined by income and household size. Through P-SNAP, everyone who received food stamps in March will receive the maximum amount for their household size from March to June.

The March P-SNAP benefit will be automatically loaded to EBT cards by April 3, and the April, May and June benefit will automatically be loaded to EBT cards on the day families normally receive their SNAP benefit, according to the Department of Social Services.

The Department of Social Services is encouraging all families who receive free or reduced lunch but didn't receive food stamps in March to apply for the P-EBT card.

"We're just encouraging people to go ahead and submit their application," Communications Director Rebecca Woelfel said. "We'll look at their income, and we'll determine whether or not they will qualify."

P-EBT and P-SNAP benefits are good for 365 days from the date the benefits are placed on an EBT card. The Department of Social Services does not know yet if P-SNAP and P-EBT benefits will continue after June, according to the department's website, mydss.mo.gov.

Families can apply for P-EBT cards by June 30 by visiting emergencymealsurvey.com/MO or calling 1-855-373-4636. Paper applications are also available on DESE's website. Families can send the applications to [email protected] or DESE Food and Nutrition Services, 205 Jefferson St., P.O. Box 480, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

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