The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced recently an enhancement to an existing program that will mean additional food benefits for more than 600,000 kids in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

The department is offering the additional help as an add-on to the state’s Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program. The move will help families buy food for children who normally would have access to free and reduced-priced meals at schools.

This program enhancement by the state is meant to help address the disruption in meals at school programs that have been stymied by the now-common remote learning methods of education being used to various degrees across North Carolina.

The program provides credit on the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards – better known as “EBT” cards that allows the user to purchase food at authorized retailers, including many major grocery store chains.

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen stated in a press release announcing the change that, just because kids are learning at home in many parts of the state, doesn’t mean they don’t need the benefits.

“Children need access to enough healthy food every day to learn, play and develop to their full potential,” Cohen said. “This program will provide extra help buying groceries for children who would normally have access to free and reduced lunch at school but are now doing remote learning at home.”

According to state health officials, children are eligible for the benefits if they had “access to free or reduced-priced meals at school last year, their school district or charter school is eligible to provide free or reduce-priced meals at school this year, and their school district or charter school utilized remote learning for all students for at least five consecutive school days between Aug. 17 and Sept. 30.”

This is different than the eligibility criteria for P-EBT benefits in the spring, which were available to all children who normally access free or reduced-priced meals, regardless of school circumstance.

The new eligibility criteria are based on requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More information about the program can be found at