CHESAPEAKE, Va. — A lot of families rely on food assistance to make ends meet during the pandemic, but some Chesapeake families are still waiting for this month’s benefits.
Chesapeake Public Schools officials told us a glitch with their system sent meal cards to the wrong students. The mix-up is bringing up a lot of questions for parents.
“I knew it was a mistake because we’ve never applied for free lunches,” said Chesapeake parent Stephanie Beggs.
Beggs' kids don’t get school food assistance, but a white card showed up in her mailbox last week. And she’s not alone.
“My neighbor had gotten one the day before,” Beggs said. “And she was like, 'I got this card, I definitely didn’t apply.'”
Parents are searching for answers about qualifications on a Chesapeake community Facebook page. Natalie Lique didn’t get a card but wonders if she should have.
“A lot of moms had the same issue, some were confused,” Lique said. “Others just took it and said, 'Hey, great, I got a card.'”
Chesapeake Public School officials told us it was an accident. They sent a letter to families last Friday saying some BM Williams Primary students did not get their P-EBT cards. But some families at Deep Creek Central Elementary and Grassfield High School did, even though they shouldn’t have.
“It was human error with a keypunch glitch that we discovered,” said Chesapeake Director of Nutrition Services Larry Wade. “As a result of that, we jumped on it.”
Wade said they immediately called the Virginia Department of Social Services to fix the issue.
“VDSS will be letting folks know that the cards are coming,” Wade said. “In our letter, we pointed that out as well.”
The cards were created during the pandemic for qualified students learning at home. Each card is loaded with $121 if the student is fully virtual, $60 if they are hybrid.
So, who qualifies for free or reduced lunch?
Virginia Department of Education Guidelines state families at or below 130 percent of the poverty level can get free meals. A family between 130 and 185 percent can get reduced meals, at about .40 cents apiece.
For example, the USDA states a family of three that makes $28,548 or less qualifies for free lunch. The same family with a $40,626 income can get reduced lunch.
Wade said families who don’t need the card should cut it up or try to sign up.
“If you have not received anything from us, we can take a look at our database, or you can apply,” Wade said.
He doesn’t take his job lightly, with more than 40 percent of Chesapeake students in the program, and said his team is always ready to help. He said more families qualified over the pandemic.
“There has been an increase and every time we can find a possibility to get someone on that program who should be there, that are not there, we are attempting to do that,” Wade said.
Officials said parents who did not receive their monthly benefits card or want to learn how to apply for them, can reach out to the nutrition office. The office number is 757-547-1470.
The Pandemic-Electronic Benefit Transfer program is federally funded. It is similar to SNAP.