Pennsylvania Capitol with flag

This Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. 

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania has gotten permission from the federal government to provide a one-time $370.50 payment to parents of each child who receives free or reduced school lunch to cover the cost feeding kids while schools are closed.

The benefit will go to families of 958,000 school-aged children and are intended to offset the costs of feeding the children meals they would have gotten at school from the time schools closed in mid-March to the end of the school year, said Lisa Watson, deputy secretary for the Office of Income Maintenance within the Department of Human Services. All families in which the children are approved for free-or-reduced lunch at school will receive the benefit, she said.

Watson said the state received approval for the program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday. The payments will be added to the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards used to distribute Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments. Families who don’t already have any EBT card will receive one for the school-lunch benefit payment, Watson said.

The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program is a joint effort between the Department of Human Services and the Department of Education.

Parents will not need to apply for the benefit, she said. The first payments are expected to go out in about 15 business days.

Anti-hunger advocates had been hoping the state would roll out this type of program, said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, based in Pittsburgh.

While some school districts have been distributing meals to help feed students when the school cafeterias aren’t available, most families can’t regularly access those food distributions, he said.

When schools have offered meals, the service “reaches a fraction of those who were getting breakfast and lunch at school every day,” Regal said.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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