California P-EBT: Application, Activation and FAQs

Due to Coronavirus (COVID-19), California children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals at school will get extra food benefits called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). In this post, we will explain in detail what the California P-EBT is about.

First, we will walk you through who is eligible and how the program works.

Furthermore, we will explain the application process and how to get California P-EBT if your child is eligible.

Also, we will answer the most frequently asked questions about the P-EBT program, including benefits for the 2020-2021 school year.

Finally, we will address P-EBT extension and when new benefits will be reloaded.

"California P-EBT Application, Activation and FAQs"

This post will cover:

  • What is Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)?
  • California P-EBT Program
  • How do I Apply for California P-EBT benefits?
  • How do I Activate California P-EBT Card?
  • California P-EBT FAQs

What is Pandemic EBT (P-EBT)?

The Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program was created in March 2020 as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The goal was to help with the disruption of the free or reduced-price meal program created by COVID-19 related school closures.

The P-EBT program provides families with benefits they can use to buy
groceries to replace the free or reduced-price meals their children missed while schools were closed for in-person instruction.

Initially, the program was approved for the 2019-2020 school year.

However, as you will see below, the P-EBT program has been approved for the 2020-2021 school year as COVID-19 related school closures continue.

California P-EBT Program

The California P-EBT program was approved on April 23, 2020.

Since it was launched, the program has delivered some $7 to $10 billion in food assistance to up to 30 million schoolchildren.

It is managed by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), in collaboration with the California Department of Education (CDE).

Families can use P-EBT benefits to buy food at most grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Furthermore, P-EBT benefits can be used to buy groceries online at Amazon, Walmart, and Aldi stores through Instacart.

Also, families can also shop online at Albertsons, Vons, and Safeway stores and pay with their EBT card at pickup.

Additionally, students can still pick up to-go school meals even if they are receiving P-EBT benefits.

Who is Eligible for California P-EBT?

All children who would receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), if not for a school closure are eligible to receive P-EBT.

If your child attends a school that offers free school meals to all students, then you are eligible to receive P-EBT benefits.

Furthermore, depending on your child’s current school situation, you may be eligible.

Virtual Learning

If your child(ren) attends school virtually through their school district, they will be eligible to receive P-EBT benefits for the school year 2020-2021.

Hybrid Learning

If your child(ren) attends school virtually some days and in-person other days, here’s what you need to know:

Your child(ren) will be eligible to receive P-EBT benefits for the days they are attending virtually and cannot receive meals from the school.

Homeschooled Children

If your child(ren) is currently homeschooled they are not eligible for P-EBT benefits for the school year 2020-2021.

How do I Apply for California P-EBT benefits?

There have been three rounds of P-EBT Benefits approved by the federal government for California:

Round One Information

Over the summer of 2020, California P-EBT provided food benefits to eligible school-aged children for the months of March, April, May, and June 2020.

Here’s what you should know about the first round:

Most families with children who receive CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits did not need to apply online.

They would have received their P-EBT card in the mail between May 11 – 22, 2020.

Furthermore, families with children who applied for CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits after their school closed would have received their P-EBT card in the mail before June 30, 2020.

Finally, families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals and
who do NOT get CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or Foster Care benefits should have applied online at ca.p-ebt.org before June 30, 2020.

Round Two Information – Extension #1

California was approved to provide additional P-EBT benefits to children who already received P-EBT benefits for the months of August and September 2020.

This is referred to as the “P-EBT Extension #1.”

Children eligible for P-EBT extension #1 benefits:

Your child was eligible for the P-EBT extension #1 if they:

  • Previously received P-EBT benefits for the 2019-20 school year;
  • Are attending a California K-12 school for the 2020-21 school year; and
  • Are assumed to be attending school virtually or via a hybrid model of virtual and in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year.

Under the P-EBT extension #1, each eligible child will receive a new P-EBT card with P-EBT benefits for the months of August and September 2020.

These new P-EBT cards will be mailed directly to families in late October through late December.

As of December 22, 2020, all P-EBT extension cards have been mailed to families with eligible children.

Eligible families do not need to apply to receive P-EBT extension benefits.

However, there are exceptions for children who are newly eligible for free or reduced-price school meals for the 2020-21 school year.

These children are not eligible for P-EBT extension #1 benefits.

However, they will be served under P-EBT extension #2 or P-EBT 2.0 as described below.

How much will I get in P-EBT extension benefits?

An eligible family will get $5.86 per child per day for every eligible school day.

The P-EBT extension benefit amount is based on each student’s learning
situation.

As a result, the amount can vary from student to student, even within a family.

Furthermore, benefit amounts under the P-EBT extension are based on individual student
and school-level data.

Benefit amounts were determined based on data matching between CDE and
the CDSS.

Round Three Information – Extension #2 or P-EBT 2.0

Recently, states have been granted authority, pending federal approval, to provide eligible children P-EBT food benefits for the entire 2020-21 school year.

This is the second extension of the P-EBT program in California, otherwise referred to as P-EBT 2.0.

However, to provide P-EBT benefits for the 2020-21 school year, states must develop and submit a new P-EBT plan for federal approval.

The CDSS and CDE are awaiting federal guidance and will be working to develop and submit a plan as soon as possible.

We will provide more information soon on when the third round of P-EBT benefits will be reloaded onto cards.

See our detailed post on California P-EBT Extensions and Update.

How do I activate my California P-EBT Card?

When you receive the new P-EBT card in the mail, follow the instructions that come with your P-EBT card.

You will be required to create your private PIN number.

Once you set up your pin, you can begin using the card right away.

Also, families need to set up a new PIN even if they already set up a PIN for their original P-EBT card.

Furthermore, do not throw away your P-EBT card.

That’s because more benefits may be added later if the federal government
extends the program again.

Click here for help in checking your P-EBT balance.

California P-EBT FAQs

Here are the most frequently asked questions about the California P-EBT program:

How Much will Each Student Receive in P-EBT Benefits?

You can get up to $365 for each child who is eligible for P-EBT benefits.

The total amount you will get depends on how many eligible children are living in your home.

Furthermore, it is partly based on how many school days a student can be assumed to be attending school via distance learning.

P-EBT benefits for the 2019-2020 school year were valued at $5.70 per child per school day or $28.50 per child per week.

Furthermore, P-EBT benefits for the 2020-2021 school year were valued at $5.86 per child per school day or $29.30 per child per week.

How do Families Receive P-EBT Benefits for Students?

For most households, P-EBT benefits were loaded onto SNAP cards, so retailers will not notice any difference between P-EBT and SNAP benefits.

For some households, P-EBT benefits were loaded onto new cards that do not look like SNAP cards but work the same.

How can P-EBT benefits be used?

P-EBT households can use their benefits at retailers that accept food stamps (SNAP benefits).

The P-EBT benefits can be used to purchase eligible foods on the food stamps list.

In California, Families can use P-EBT benefits to buy food at most grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Furthermore, P-EBT benefits can be used to buy groceries online at Amazon, Walmart, and Aldi stores through Instacart.

Also, families can also shop online at Albertsons, Vons, and Safeway stores and pay with their EBT card at pickup.

What if I applied online and haven’t received my P-EBT card?

If you have applied but have not received your P-EBT card, call California’s EBT customer service center.

They can be reached at 1-(877) 328-9677. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How long do I have to spend my P-EBT benefits?

You can use your P-EBT benefits for one year.

Your one year clock starts the date you get your P-EBT card.

If I get P-EBT benefits, will it make me a public charge?

No. The P-EBT is considered a disaster emergency benefit.

It is based on the free and reduced-fee school meals eligibility.

This is similar to other benefits that DHS has said would not be considered for public charge purposes.

However, USCIS can consider several factors under their public charge test.

How do I Contact California P-EBT Program?

Here’s the phone number for California P-EBT:

They can be reached at 1-(877) 328-9677. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The P-EBT helpline can help with PIN set-up, address changes, or replacing
lost/stolen P-EBT cards.

However, the P-EBT Helpline cannot help with determining eligibility or issuing new
benefits if your child is not found in the system.

What should we do with P-EBT card after the benefits have been used?

If you have used the P-EBT benefits on your card, do not throw the card away.

The government has authorized additional PEBT benefits.

Keeping your existing card(s) could help you get any future P-EBT benefits more quickly
and easily.

California P-EBT Summary

Here’s the bottom line:

California P-EBT is the state of California’s version of the P-EBT program.

The state of California was granted authority to provide P-EBT food benefits for the entire 2020-21 school year.

However, the state is still working on the guidelines for the second round of benefits.

Also, children that received benefits in the summer of 2020 are eligible for the extended benefits.

Finally, once the benefit payments are released, they will be retroactive October 2020, the month when Congress extended the program.

Questions?

We hope this post on California P-EBT was helpful.

If you have further questions about California P-EBT, CalFresh, or California EBT Card, please let us know in the comments section below.

Be sure to check out our other articles about CalFresh and CalFresh EBT, including CalFresh LoginCalFresh Income LimitRestaurants that Accept EBT in LA CountyHow to Apply for CA Food Stamps, and How to Purchase Groceries Online with California EBT.