California families eligible for free or reduced school meals can apply for P-EBT card with up to $365 per child

California
A sample of a P-EBT card on the California Department of Social Service's website.

A sample of a P-EBT card on the California Department of Social Service’s website.

California families with children eligible for free of reduced-price school meals can on Friday apply for a one-time benefit of up to $365 per child, if they haven’t received the money.

Those who receive CalFresh, Medi-Cal or foster care benefits qualify automatically, and their Pandemic Emergency Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) card should have been delivered by Thursday.

The payments for eligible recipients were slated to begin arriving in the mail on May 12, according to the California Department of Social Services.

But families who don’t receive those benefits, or who haven’t received a card, must apply online before June 30. Anyone qualifying for free or reduced meals can apply, regardless of immigration status.

Those who applied for CalFresh or Medi-Cal after schools closed should get their card in the mail before June 30, but they may receive less than $365 per child, officials said.

The total amount each family gets depends on how many eligible children are in the household.

Many have been struggling to provide food with schools and workplaces closed indefinitely, so the state introduced the emergency benefit to help families buy groceries. Like cards administered under CalFresh, P-EBT cards can even be used online at Walmart and Amazon.

Families approved for the program can still participate in other school food programs, including free meal pickups being offered during the outbreak.

Applications for food assistance in California nearly tripled between February and March amid skyrocketing unemployment.

More than 5.1 million Californians have filed for unemployment benefits since March 14, and $16.1 million in assistance has been disbursed over that period, according to the state Employment Development Department.

Those who receive P-EBT benefits will have one year to use them after they receive their card. It’s unclear how the funds will be doled out; officials had said the first round would come in separate installments over four months.

The food card isn’t considered a public charge by the Department of Homeland Security. However, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can consider several factors under its public charge test when considering visa applications.

Those with questions should contact an immigration lawyer. The state also has a guide for immigrants seeking COVID-19 benefits, including information on the $125 million relief fund for those who are undocumented.

Those with questions on the P-EBT program can call California’s 24-hour customer service center at 877-328-9677.

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