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All Lynn school families will benefit from federal lunch program extension

LYNN — All Lynn Public School families will receive more financial relief this month because a federal program that provides grocery payments to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch has been extended. 

Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to have its Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program extended for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. 

Eligible students in hybrid learning situations will get $58.60 per month and eligible students in remote learning situations, such as Lynn schoolchildren, will get $117.20 per month, according to the state website. 

Approximately 12,000 P-EBT cards were issued to Lynn families this past spring through the program, which was created in response to the COVID-19 related school closures. 

Since all students receive free meals at the Lynn Public Schools, each family was eligible for $399 per child through the first round of the program, which was paid in two separate installments in April and May. 

Lynn families began receiving two additional payments for the months of October and November, totaling $234,40, last week. For families who received a P-EBT card last spring, the payments were added directly to those cards, according to Norris Guscott, director of the Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance and leader of the city’s Food Security Task Force. 

“It’s a tool against food insecurity,” said Guscott. “This is the state’s attempt to take care of the most vulnerable because COVID-19 has exacerbated food and resources for the city. That is there for Lynn residents and that is there to directly address food insecurity during a pandemic.” 

However, despite the pandemic exacerbating food insecurity in the city, nearly 2,000 P-EBT cards issued this past spring were left unactivated, which amounted to thousands of dollars that could have been used to support approximately 3,000 schoolchildren, Guscott said. 

Guscott said families have not activated their cards for a variety of reasons, such as their distrust of government programs and fear that the immigration status of family members would make them vulnerable to arrest. 

Other families have told the task force that they don’t need the funds and have inquired about how to transfer their P-EBT payments to those who have more need, Guscott said. 

To combat that scenario for this round of payments, Guscott said the Food Security Task Force has been engaging in a robust public awareness campaign, including directly connecting with residents to encourage them to use their P-EBT payments. 

“We are actively looking for problems in this,” said Guscott. “We hope that there won’t be. We’re just being hyper-vigilant because we want all Lynn residents to utilize it.” 

P-EBT funds can be used anywhere that accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Department of Transitional Assistance benefits, while includes local grocery stores, retailers and farmers markets. People can also use their P-EBT benefits online through Amazon or Walmart. 

“It is an important and necessary benefit to support families through what has been and continues to be a challenging time,” said Lynn Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler. 

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