RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Two days after the expected release date, food-insecure families in Virginia are still waiting on benefits to cover the cost of additional meals during virtual and hybrid learning.
Parents who spoke to 8News on Friday described the delay as the latest frustration after months of uncertainty.
On Monday, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) announced that Pandemic EBT payments for 650,000 virtual and hybrid students would continue at least through the end of the school year, with the first round of retroactive benefits from October and November 2020 set to arrive on March 17th.
The news was a relief to hundreds of thousands of parents who had gone without these benefits, or an update, for nearly six months.
That relief was short-lived for Chester mother Tukisha Burns.
Burns said her grocery bill has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s because, with her daughter learning from home, Burns is paying for two meals per day that she would otherwise be getting for free at school.
Burns said she received the first two rounds of P-EBT, the last of which arrived in September 2020. So she was confused when she didn’t see additional benefits on her card as expected on Wednesday.
“We expected for them to keep their word and do what needs to be done but it was not done,” Burns said.
Burns said she confirmed with multiple people in her local school district that she is still eligible for the program. She also reached out to VDSS’s new call center specifically for P-EBT inquiries. Burns said it took nearly two hours to get a hold of a representative, who took down her information but wasn’t able to provide an explanation for the delay.
“I am really upset,” Burns said. “My household needs these benefits. I don’t know how much longer we can go without.”
Chesterfield mother of three Lakeysha Anderson, who also got the first two P-EBT issuances, described a similar situation.
“I’m afraid we will never get it and we’ll just fall through the cracks,” Anderson said in a phone interview. “We need that to feed our kids. They’re home all day and they just eat, eat, eat.”
Amanda Ferrell, a single mother in Hampton, said her three kids are back in school four days a week now but she’s waiting anxiously for retroactive pay. She said she largely used credit cards to keep up with the mounting cost of additional meals when her kids were learning virtually full-time.
As of Friday afternoon, Ferrell was also empty-handed and seeking answers.
“It’s stressful because we don’t have an answer so we don’t know if we can rely on it,” Ferrell said. “While I’m really thankful that they’re doing this, the communication is horrible.”
Ferrell reached out to the P-EBT call center as well.
“I was on hold for two hours and all they do is take an inquiry and fill out a form, which is the same thing you can do online,” Ferrell said. “You’re wasting time calling them because they don’t know anything.”
8News reached out to VDSS on Friday morning for an interview but the agency declined.
Instead, VDSS Public Affairs Associate Director Cletisha Lovelace responded in an email, detailing what she called the top three factors impacting households that have reported issues with payments.
- Although the student may receive free/reduced-price meals, they may not be attending a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program/National School Breakfast Program. For eligibility details, please click here.
- The school district may not have submitted the student’s information; therefore, the eligible student was not included on the issuance list.
- The current P-EBT issuance differs from previous issuances. The previous P-EBT issuance was based solely on the fully virtual model. The current P-EBT issuance utilizes both a fully virtual and hybrid model. However, benefit amounts for the hybrid model is less than that of the fully virtual model. This has led some households to believe they only received a one-month issuance. We rely on the school to provide information regarding which modality each student is participating in.
Lovelace acknowledged that there were some delays with the issuance on Wednesday, March 17.
“However, our vendor confirmed that all benefits were issued to households by 5 p.m. that day,” Lovelace wrote.
The next issuance of retroactive P-EBT benefit is scheduled for Saturday, March 20. According to VDSS, fully remote students should receive $121.40 per month and hybrid students should get $60.70 per month.
As of Friday evening, Lovelace said she was still awaiting confirmation that file processing was complete and on schedule.