By: Rachel Cahill, Visiting Fellow, Public Benefits
Sofia Charlot, Co-author
Since the launch of the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program in the spring of 2020, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), and thousands of Ohio schools have worked tirelessly to ensure that federal funds help cover the costs of missed school meals for Ohio’s children due to COVID-19. In each of the past three school years, Ohio has been a national P-EBT leader by adapting the program to match the changing learning environments for school age children across the state (see here, here, and here). Ohio’s approved plan for the current (2022-2023) school year mirrors last year’s plan, with one big change–virtual and homeschooled students with incomes low enough to qualify for free or reduced-price school meals can now qualify for P-EBT if their reason for opting out of in-person learning is related to COVID-19.
Why did P-EBT eligibility change?
In September 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published updated guidance recognizing that some children currently enrolled in a virtual school or being homeschooled previously attended a school that participates in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and disenrolled in response to COVID-19 exposure concerns. These children would have received free or reduced-price meals if not for the pandemic, and therefore, should have equal access to P-EBT, as long as they remain income eligible. This new policy interpretation comes after persistent advocacy from impacted families and associated media coverage during the 2021-2022 school year.
New P-EBT application for virtual and homeschool students
Before the 2022-2023 school year, full-time virtual and homeschool students were not eligible for P-EBT. Now, virtual and homeschooled students who meet the eligibility requirement for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) can access this program by submitting an application.
The new requirements for student eligibility are:
- Current enrollment in a virtual school or a homeschool with a homeschool plan filed with the child’s local school district.
- Enrollment in a virtual school or homeschool between January 27, 2020 to January 20, 2023 prompted by COVID-19.
- Previous enrollment in a traditional school that participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), with the exception of kindergarten through second grade students who never attended a traditional brick and mortar school. 
- The child’s household income is at or below 185% of the federal poverty line, qualifying them for free or reduced-price meals. 
Ohio has specific requirements that define a virtual and homeschool student. Receiving online instruction alone does not automatically classify a student as virtual. A virtual student attends an online Ohio community or chartered public school and is taught by a licensed Ohio teacher. Homeschooled students are not considered virtual students, but are required to notify their home school district and comply with other requirements under Ohio law.
Families with virtual and home-school students must complete a new application to enroll in P-EBT for the 2022-2023 school year.
The Ohio Department of Education P-EBT application for virtual and homeschool students is available now and will close on May 31, 2023. It requires a parent to detail the reason their child left a traditional school that participated in the National School Lunch Program (see searchable database here), household income, and proof of income. Children who receive SNAP or Ohio Works First (OWF) are, by definition, income eligible for P-EBT. 
Families with virtual and homeschool children who apply for P-EBT may need to wait up to 90 days to be approved given the complex verification process, which includes confirming both current and previous school enrollment, as well as income verification. Parents should watch for an email with information about the student’s eligibility. The general P-EBT customer service line (1-866-244-0071) will not have information on application approval or denial for virtual and homeschool students.
Additional P-EBT details
The P-EBT benefit for homeschooled and virtual students approved during the 2022-2023 School Year is $147 per month, per eligible child. For example, an eligible student who remains enrolled in a virtual school from September 2022 through May 2023 would receive a total P-EBT benefit of $1,325 for the full school year. If the child is a current SNAP recipient, the P-EBT benefits will be added to the child’s active account. If the eligible student cannot be matched to an active SNAP case, the student will receive a new P-EBT card in the mail. If students were already enrolled in P-EBT within a traditional school setting, their benefits will be loaded onto the same P-EBT card that was previously issued.
Upon application approval, students will receive an initial benefit with the combined total for August 2022 through the application approval month. From that point, students will receive a monthly benefit until May 2023 when the federal Public Health Emergency ends. Students whose applications are approved after May 2023 will receive the total benefit for the months spent in virtual or home school in one payment. 
Once again, the application deadline for virtual and homeschool students to apply for P-EBT is May 31, 2023. Note that the P-EBT application for virtual and homeschool students is only available in English, so families with Limited English Proficiency will likely need assistance, including from community-based organizations, to complete the application and submit required verification.
What’s staying the same
P-EBT eligibility for children attending school in-person during the current school year is unchanged from previous years. Children who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals at an NSLP-participating school will receive $8.18 in P-EBT benefits for qualifying missed school days. Schools submit this data to ODJFS each month and benefits are automatically added to the eligible child’s SNAP or P-EBT card.
Young children (under age 6) enrolled in SNAP will also continue to qualify for P-EBT benefits through the end of the federal Public Health Emergency in May 2023
Similarly, young children (under age 6) enrolled in SNAP will also continue to qualify for P-EBT benefits through the end of the federal Public Health Emergency in May 2023. The monthly P-EBT benefit for this population may vary throughout the school year, but was $24.54 per month from August through December 2022. As in previous years, families with children under 6 do not apply for P-EBT; benefits are automatically added to their SNAP card. 
For more details on Ohio’s P-EBT program, check out https://jfs.ohio.gov/ofam/p-ebt.stm
For virtual and homeschool students, P-EBT can blunt the harm of lost SNAP Emergency Allotments
In light of the ending of SNAP Emergency Allotments in February 2023 and the unprecedentedly high cost of food, the updated P-EBT guidelines for the 2022-2023 school year are coming at the right time. As highlighted in a prior post, 673,000 SNAP households in Ohio will experience a benefit cut in March 2023 with mostly children and older adults experiencing the impact. For the Ohio economy, the end of the emergency allotments means an annual $1.94 billion reduction in economic activity.
Because P-EBT has been so important to child wellbeing during the pandemic, Congress decided to build on the program by authorizing a permanent summer EBT program, starting in Summer 2024. This cycle of virtual and homeschool applications can inform how Ohio manages a future application process for the upcoming 2024 Summer EBT program. Public program administrators, school districts, and the Ohio community can continue to work together to build an effective and sustainable Summer EBT program that reduces childhood hunger in Ohio for years to come.