Merkley, Wyden announce more than 350,000 children in Oregon to receive food assistance

WASHINGTON — Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced Tuesday that over 350,000 children in Oregon will receive critical food assistance through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program in order to help fill the meal gap created by school closures, according to a joint press release from the senators.

Even before the coronavirus crisis hit, over half a million people, including one in five children in Oregon, the release said, struggled with food insecurity.

“Every child in Oregon — regardless of the color of their skin, the town they live in, or where their parents work — deserves to go to bed with a full belly,” Merkley said in the press release. “Unfortunately, we have more work ahead of us to live up to that principle. I’m grateful that this funding will help bring us a step closer, and will keep fighting for the funding and resources we need to end hunger in Oregon once and for all.”

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service authorized the Department of Human Services to provide Oregon P-EBT Pandemic School Meal Replacement Benefits to more than 351,000 students receiving free or reduced-price school meals in Oregon, including almost 147,000 students already receiving Nutrition Assistance. Households will receive benefits equivalent to one free lunch and one free breakfast for each eligible child — $5.70 per normal school day for the months of March, April, May and June.

“Together, DHS and ODE are working to ensure no child in Oregon goes hungry during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dan Haun, DHS self-sufficiency programs director. “This resource is the result of our strong collaboration and will provide additional support for child nutrition and expand families’ options for healthy food.”

Eligible Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program households will have March, April and May benefits automatically deposited to their existing Electronic Benefit Transfer accounts in late May. Students who get free or reduced-price school meals, but do not receive SNAP benefits, will automatically receive an Oregon Trail Card in the mail.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act created the P-EBT program to provide nutrition assistance to families whose schools closed in response to COVID-19. P-EBT provides households an EBT card with the value of the free school breakfast and lunch reimbursement rates for the days the schools are closed. Schools must close for at least five consecutive days in order for families to receive a P-EBT Card. Oregon submitted a state plan for operating P-EBT, which was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The year-round fight against hunger for young Oregonians got even tougher with COVID-19 requiring schools to close to protect public health,” Wyden said in the press release. “I am gratified these federal funds will help feed students across our state during this crisis, and I will keep battling to provide food security for Oregonians of all ages.”