By:  Laura Reiley
Source: The Washington Post

Biden renewed a free program to feed needy kids. Most states haven’t even applied.

At its height, Pandemic-EBT fed millions of low-income students. Now it’s faltering as burdened administrators opt out.

Odessa Davis worked three jobs to get by, until the pandemic shutdowns made it impossible to work to put food on the table for herself and her 12-year-old son, Leon.

Previously, Leon had gotten reduced-price meals at his school. Now the expense and preparation of his meals fell to Davis, 33. At first, the Montgomery County, Md., resident resorted to picking up food boxes from Capital Area Food Bank, whipping up meals on the fly as if in an episode of “Chopped,” trying to make it fun.

“I went to whatever food drives were available. I was sad that I had to do it,” she said. “I felt like a failure.”

Soon, the federal government devised a plan to get lunch money into the hands of low-income families, like Davis and her son, to make up for meals missed because of school closures or illness, which meant $200 every month for the duo.

The money was a lifeline. But at the start of this school year, it stopped.

“I was upset that it stopped, because I did rely on it.” she said. “They cut it off, and we’re still in a pandemic.”

At its peak, 18.5 million kids relied on Pandemic-EBT, which began under the Trump administration and continued under President Biden. The program gave families forced home a debit-card benefit to use at the grocery store, for some online food shopping or even at farmers markets.

Now the program is flagging. Most states have not applied for the school year that began in September. Experts say the pandemic has changed in ways that make maintaining the program an impossible burden for already strapped administrators.

As Deputy Agriculture Undersecretary Stacy Dean told The Washington Post, “The context has changed.”

With only eight states approved for this federal aid, and another 17 somewhere in the application process, the remaining states threaten to leave billions of dollars on the table in direct assistance to students and preschoolers who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.