(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) — The State of Arkansas received federal approval today to provide food assistance to families of students who are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program when schools are in session, the Departments of Education (ADE) and Human Services (DHS) announced today.

Pandemic SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is designed to help replace the cost of meals incurred by families as a result of the State closing schools on March 15 due to the public health emergency created by the coronavirus.

“Obviously, there are many considerations for students when you close face-to-face instruction,” said Education Secretary Johnny Key.  “Making certain students are food secure lessens the burden on families during this time, and it is an extension of our vision to transform Arkansas to lead the nation in student-focused education.”

DHS worked with ADE to identify the 303, 120 students in Arkansas who qualify for free or reduced lunches. Families whose income is at 185 percent of the federal poverty level for their household size are eligible for the lunch program. Pandemic SNAP provides $319 per student for missed school days in March, April, and May.

Of the 303, 120 students, 180,316 are not on the traditional SNAP program while 122,804 are. For the families already on SNAP, the $319 will be added to the family’s electronic benefits card (EBT) during the last week of May or first week of June. The total cost of the Pandemic SNAP benefits in Arkansas is $96 million, which will go to grocery stores and other food vendors that accept SNAP.

For families who are not on SNAP, ADE has provided DHS with their addresses. DHS will mail an EBT card, information about Pandemic SNAP, and information about how to access benefits on the EBT card to the address ADE has on file.  The families do not need to apply or take any action to get these benefits as their participation in the free or reduced lunch program make them eligible for Pandemic SNAP. The families have 12 months to use the benefit made available through this program.

“We are happy to partner with the Department of Education as it works to help students and their families who have depended on the free lunch program for nutritious meals,” said DHS Secretary Cindy Gillespie.