PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Many local families who qualify for a pandemic food assistance program have not received the latest round of benefits and they’re struggling to figure out why.
Across the commonwealth, families of 650,000 students struggled to put enough food on the table during virtual or hybrid learning. To help ease the financial burden, a CARES Act-funded program P-EBT (Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer) covered some of the cost for food.
In mid-March, Virginia Social Services Commissioner Duke Storen said Virginia will issue monthly benefits through at least the 2021-2022 school year. Fully virtual students will receive $121.40 and hybrid students will receive $60.70 per month.
The monthly benefits were supposed to be loaded onto EBT cards March 25. Five days later, many families still hadn’t received the benefits and countless others are receiving the wrong amount.
10 On Your Side spoke with Olivia Copeland, a Chesapeake mother of two, who has tried and failed to figure out where their family’s P-EBT benefits are.
“You are the key to feeding America’s next generation. You’re the key to making sure these kids are healthy and grow strong and be ready for September,” said Copeland. “Help us. That’s all we’re asking for. If you offered it, make sure we’re good.”
Copeland received the first round of P-EBT last June. She didn’t receive the second round that went out in September or the most recent dispersals in March. Retroactive P-EBT benefits from October/November were supposed to be issued on March 17 with retroactive benefits from December/January issued on March 20. She has no idea why she hasn’t received the payments, and says her children qualify.
Copeland and other parents say they’re waiting two to three hours on hold when they call the P-EBT call center with social services. And when they do get ahold of someone, they say they’re not getting answers. When WAVY called the phone number provided, we sat on hold for two hours and 45 minutes.
“It’s like passing a buck,” said another mother, Shantelle. “You call this person, they say that’s not me call this person. So I feel like I just give up at this point.”
Shantelle’s daughter goes to school in Hampton. She hasn’t even received her card yet. Social Services was able to tell her how much will be on the card when she receives it. Shantelle says they are giving her the hybrid benefit, not the fully virtual benefit her daughter qualifies for as a full-time remote student.
10 On Your Side reached out to Virginia Social Services to ask about the P-EBT issues. They sent us this statement:
“Our P-EBT Call Center has reported receiving a voluminous amount of inquiries regarding eligibility as well as other nuanced issues related to the release of benefits to eligible households. We are committed to working as quickly as possible to address all inquiries and remain in frequent communication with the Virginia Department of Education and school districts to provide ongoing updates and resources to support the resolution of these inquiries.”
The statement continues:
“As a point of clarification, eligibility for the current P-EBT benefit issuance was determined by the school’s modality as of January 2021. As a result, there may be households that were eligible for the previous two issuances but may not be eligible for the current release of benefits.”
When it comes to Hampton City Schools specifically, VDSS had this explanation:
“We are also actively working with Hampton City Schools to address some inaccuracies within the data we received, and are in the process of making the necessary corrections to ensure eligible households receive the appropriate benefit amounts within the next monthly issuance schedule. Hampton City Schools also mailed a communication with additional details to eligible households late week.”
Questions regarding current or previous issuances of P-EBT benefits should be directed to the P-EBT Call Center from 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday – Friday at 866-513-1414 (toll-free) or 804-294-1633, or through the P-EBT Online Inquiry Form.