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Missed school due to COVID? Here's $100 for lunch

Cape Cod students received an average of $100 last month in federal assistance to cover missed meals. More is on the way.

Public schools may be finishing up, but many Cape Cod students are being reimbursed this summer for the meals they missed this year because of COVID-related absences.

Massachusetts in March received federal approval to provide Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) assistance to families whose children were unable to attend school.

The state’s Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) has operated the federal P-EBT program since April 2020 and has worked with school districts to support the families of 17,226 Cape Cod students, a representative tells CAI.

More than 19,000 students are enrolled in public schools in Barnstable County.

Last month, families of 8,486 students received the first retroactive P-EBT payment for excused absences between September and April, “bringing $916,708 into the local economy,” the DTA said. That amount, an average of $108 per student, was transferred to P-EBT and SNAP EBT cards for eligible families to spend on groceries locally and online.

P-EBT promotes food security for families whose children receive meals through the National School Lunch Program.

"I feel that the students have that understanding that nutrition will be provided, that they don't have to worry about it," says Andre King of the Barnstable School Committee, which represents the Cape’s largest district. "It just creates an atmosphere where those physiological needs are being met: academic achievement, self-actualization, setting goals. Those things are much more attainable once those fundamental needs have been taken care of."

The P-EBT payments are based on the number of COVID-related absences that school districts reported monthly to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Absences were deemed eligible if a school closed due to COVID cases. The benefit also applied to students who had COVID, experienced symptoms, or were in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Additional payments are scheduled for June 25 and July 25:

1-5 absences: $21 per month per student

6-15 absences: $71 per month per student

16+ absences: $128 per month per student

Families that have not received a card or letter should call the DTA at 877-382-2363.

Patrick Flanary is a dad, journalist, and host of Morning Edition.