Over the past week, parents of students in Forrest and Lamar counties – and throughout Mississippi – have received P-EBT cards in the mail from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service that are designed to help offset the cost of food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, many families have reported that the cards – which can be used to purchase eligible food items anywhere Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or EBT cards are accepted – are not working properly or at all. Matt Dillon, superintendent of the Petal School District, said although any child who qualified for free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program is eligible to receive the card, the benefits were mistakenly mailed out to many families who do not meet those requirements.
“They quickly found the error, and from there they froze those accounts,” Dillon said. “Ultimately, if (parents) did not fill out any of the free and reduced lunch forms like normal, and they’re not accustomed to getting these, they just need to disregard that.
“It was done with an error through their reporting system, and (several) students that got it were not eligible to get it. So there’s no money on the accounts, or the accounts have been frozen.”
Any questions regarding the P-EBT cards, which are being handled by the Mississippi Department of Health, can be addressed by calling the MS P-EBT Call Center at (833) 316-2423 from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“We proactively sent a statement out to our families through our School Status system, so we hope (they) got one of those through text messaging,” Dillon said. “We just wanted to alert families of that situation, to let them know what was going on.
“We tried to inform them as quickly as we found out of that error. As you can see on the reports from the state level, it’s impacted several school districts across the state.”
Steven Hampton, superintendent of the Lamar County School District, said district officials were sent a survey to fill out in order to qualify for the P-EBT cards. Upon completion, the survey was sent back to the Mississippi Department of Health.
“When we enroll students, we ask the parents to fill out the free and reduced lunch forms,” Hampton said. “If they do not fill out the free and reduced lunch forms, then they will not qualify for the EBT cards.”
Hampton said his district has not received any reports of cards working improperly or not at all. However, he has heard rumors that the Lamar County School District opted out of the P-EBT program, which is not true.
“We completed all documentation that was necessary,” he said. “Then it went to the Department of Health.
“As a district, we’ve done what was required or asked of us to submit that, so our families would have that option.”
Although families that did not complete the free and reduced lunch form do not qualify for the P-EBT cards, every student in Mississippi is eligible for free breakfast and lunch because of financial difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Efforts to contact a media representative regarding the P-EBT cards were unsuccessful.