Illinois announces new federal funding to feed low-income students |

Illinois Department of Human Services Secretary Grace Hou said the debit cards can be used at grocery stores that accept state and federal welfare benefits. But they cannot be used at restaurants, including fast food places.

The federal Electronic Benefits Transfer, which predates the pandemic, is an electronic system for individuals who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and pay for food using SNAP benefits.

The P-EBT program was created in March 2020, under the federal relief package called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Individuals who receive benefits through SNAP can also receive P-EBT benefits.

Children are eligible for P-EBT if they are enrolled in the free or reduced-price meals program at a school operating the National School Lunch Program. Currently, 48.5 percent of students in Illinois who are low-income and qualify for free or reduced lunch, according to data from the Illinois Report Card.

If they are not enrolled in the free or reduced meals program, children will still be eligible for P-EBT if they are in a Community Eligibility Provision, which offers breakfast and lunch free to all students, provided they are without access to an in-school meal, according the state’s P-EBT website.

Schools are considered eligible to participate in P-EBT if they operate the National School Lunch Program, and have been closed or operating remotely for at least five consecutive days at some point during the 2020-2021 school year.