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Thousands Of Maine Kids Likely Missing Out On Food Benefits As Application Deadline Looms

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Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
Deering High School workers assemble bag lunches in March 2020 from food dropped off by restaurants Little Giant and Chaval.

Thousands of Maine children are likely missing out on a federal grocery benefit this summer.

That's the message from nutrition advocates who say that the various federal and state nutrition programs, differing eligibility requirements, and upheaval from the pandemic have made it harder for families to access all the food benefits for which they may qualify.

"At least 30,000 children may be missing out on this benefit," says Anna Korsen, advocacy director of Full Plates Full Potential. She's talking about a special USDA summer pandemic grocery benefit that's available as an EBT card to low income, school age kids through each Maine school system.

The benefit program of up to $375 per child is also available for kids younger than age six, but only through the SNAP program. Korsen says many families are confused about whether they qualify and where to apply.

"I would emphasize, you know, that it's very complicated. Families who think they're eligible should apply for school meals, and/or apply for SNAP if they're not already enrolled," she says.

Korsen says part of the confusion came when the USDA opted to provide universal school meals to all kids during the pandemic school year — which she says was the right move — but also meant that many parents neglected to fill out the usual paperwork to see if they qualified for reduced-cost or free school meals.

"Filling out those forms is so important for several reasons, federal funding for programs for example, but also so families can access these extra benefits." says Korsen.

The deadline to apply for the summer pandemic grocery benefit, through either SNAP or a local school district, is Aug. 31.

Korsen notes that the program is running behind and money intended cover the cost of summer food won't actually be sent out until September, to retroactively cover the months of July and August.

Currently, the USDA pandemic food programs are expected to expire at the end of next school year. Maine recently became one of the first states in the country to adopt a universal school meal program for all children in the state; that program takes effect in 2023.