Ohio Must Prepare to Quickly Extend P-EBT Benefits to Youngest Ohioans

January 28, 2021 | Ohio

 Ohio Must Prepare to Quickly Extend P-EBT Benefits to Youngest Ohioans

January 28, 2021

By Alex F. Coccia, D.Phil., Policy Consultant

Although Ohio still is awaiting guidance from the federal government, soon many Ohio children enrolled in child care will be able to access direly needed pandemic nutritional support for the first time since the pandemic began.

Children in Ohio are at a heightened risk of experiencing poverty, especially during the pandemic, and it has become increasingly difficult for their parents and caregivers to put food on the table. Data from the American Community Survey taken from 2015-2019 show that 20% of Ohio children live in poverty, i.e. in households with income of less than $26,000 for a family of four. In 2019, 170,000 of these children experiencing poverty were under the age of six. We also know that Black and Hispanic children have higher rates, 46% and 38% respectively, compared to 14% of white children.

In Ohio, about 285,000 children attend child care, and in 2019, 172,585 were in publicly funded child care (PFCC). Affordable licensed child care programs have long provided important benefits for children and working families.  They can be safe, social, academic, healthy, and nutritious environments for children, and they crucially ensure parents can be meaningfully engaged in the workforce and support their families financially. Further, children whose child care providers participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program (SBP), or the Special Milk Program (SMP) can receive healthy and balanced meals every day.  In fact, in 2018, 113,094 children in Ohio received meals and snacks on an average workday from child care providers participating in CACFP, and 166,000 children under the age of four received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food benefits outside of child care.

However, for safety reasons during the pandemic, many child care centers closed. Others were able to secure an emergency pandemic license, meaning that they reduced teacher to child ratios and significantly reduced capacity to serve children. In both circumstances the results were the same – many children and their families lost access to child care and simultaneously saw an increase in their hunger and food insecurity.  In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse survey reported that 14% of Ohio households with children sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat during the pandemic, a likely underestimate.  No family should have to make these sacrifices and, without appropriate interventions from policymakers, children will suffer and the impacts of malnutrition and trauma could have long-term negative consequences on their health and longevity.

The good news is that there’s something that can be done to reverse this trend.  The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), established under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act by Congress in March 2020, ensures that low-income families with children receive the value of the meals missed at school due to closures.  While the original legislation excluded children enrolled in child care, the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, passed in the fall, extended and expanded the P-EBT program through FY 2021 and to children under the age of six in households that participate in SNAP when their child care facility is closed or operating with reduced hours or attendance, or if they live in an area with school and child care closures.

This extension will provide a lifeline to many children and families.  The Center for Community Solutions estimates that nearly 220,000 young children enrolled in SNAP could benefit. Children can receive the amount equal to at least one breakfast and one lunch, putting over $1 million dollars every day into the hands of struggling families across Ohio.

While this is a welcome and necessary change, there has been little guidance on how best to move forward to extend these benefits.  Since November, USDA has been examining the complex operational issues in issuing P-EBT benefits for children in child care, but most states do not have information about which children are receiving child care or meals through child care, making cross-matching immediately difficult.

In the meantime, there are important steps that the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) and Ohio Department of Education (ODE) can take to prepare to respond quickly to USDA guidance and then get benefits out the door.

In anticipation of USDA guidance, ODJFS and ODE should:

  • Review and utilize lessons learned from two rounds of close coordination with school partners in providing the P-EBT program;
  • Work with child care providers about how they can best identify eligible children and utilize SNAP data to ensure young children receive their benefits as quickly as possible;
  • Work with the Child Care Resource and Referral network to prepare close coordination with the relevant partners for getting information to families who are SNAP eligible in order to quickly access benefits; and,
  • Prepare to issue retroactive payments for those who are currently missing child care meals.

With an eye toward the future, Ohio can use this opportunity to work toward stabilizing child care for the future:

  • Use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDG) funds to increase funding for public child care;
  • Expand initial eligibility for PFCC from 130 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 200 percent FPL to help parents access and afford high-quality child care;
  • Urge its federal partners to push for stabilization funds to prevent widespread closures and the loss of nearly half of all Ohio child care capacity (the bipartisan Child Care is Essential Act provided $50 billion in rescue funds to stabilize child care but did not pass the Senate in the last session); and,
  • Adapt its licensing process to collect information on child care program capacity by age.

Ohio should forge ahead in getting P-EBT to its school age children.  ODJFS and ODE were proactive in submitting a plan for operating P-EBT for school children.  Similarly, this program will address the urgent nutritional needs of our youngest Ohioans.