Too many families in the U.S. struggle to put food on the table. During the pandemic, both tried-and-true policy levers and brand-new programs and flexibilities were put in place to help families. In the aggregate, the combination of additional resources and lower administrative barriers was effective: on an annual basis, the national level of food insecurity held steady from 2019 to 2020.  

The Pandemic EBT program (“Pandemic EBT” or PEBT) has proven to be a vital policy tool in these efforts. Pandemic EBT is a social insurance program that functions similarly to SNAP: families receive benefits on an EBT debit card which is then used to purchase food at most grocery stores. The dollar amount that families receive is equal to the value of free school breakfasts and lunches students missed due to pandemic-related school closures.  

When schools close for the summer—even in the years before the pandemic—food hardship among families with children rises. But there is a policy that can help: for the summer of 2022, summer months count as school closures and all states can apply to provide eligible children with Pandemic EBT.

This analysis finds that in the month leading into this summer (i.e., in May 2022), food insufficiency was lower in states that distributed substantial Pandemic EBT benefits to compensate for meals lost during pandemic-related school closures. We find that a third of states have not yet been approved for Pandemic EBT to cover the summer of 2022. Even among the states that are approved, we have struggled to document the extent to which any resources were distributed to households during these months, much less whether these resources were on-time summer payments or delayed school year payments. Relatedly, food insufficiency among households with children, and especially among lower-income households with children, rose at the end of the 2021-22 school year and has remained elevated.

Pandemic EBT has proven to be an effective program for helping families when schools closed because of the pandemic. Going forward, a permanent program like Pandemic EBT has the potential to be a powerful tool to fight food hardship among children when schools close for summer. But to realize its potential, states need to participate in the program and deliver benefits in a timely manner. 

Read the full article about food security in schools during the pandemic by Lauren Bauer, Krista Ruffini, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and Natalie Tomeh at Brookings.