Feds Approve Pandemic-Related Massachusetts Food Benefits Request for 2,600 Children

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Around 2,600 children with disabilities will be able to receive additional food benefits, a change state health and human services officials said they’d been seeking federal approval of for several years.

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services said Thursday that Massachusetts had received a green light from the federal government to directly certify certain children with disabilities who qualify for Medicaid because they receive Supplemental Security Income for free and reduced-price school meals, starting this month.

Those children will then automatically be eligible for the Pandemic EBT program that provides emergency food benefits to cover the cost of missed school meals for students who are learning at least partially remotely.

According to the administration, Medicaid programs are allowed to provide direct certification for children to qualify for free or reduced price-meals without their household applying, but a different set of program rules made Medicaid-qualifying children who receive SSI and live with a grandparent or other relative caregiver ineligible for direct certification.

Patricia Baker, a senior policy advocate at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said in a statement that her organization helped the state advocate for the policy clarification and is ready to help implement it.

“These grandparents and all the kinship families are the true heroes here: raising their disabled grandkids, nieces and nephews at home, especially during the pandemic,” she said. “Kinship families in Massachusetts and across the country need access to all available benefits to raise the next generation, including free school breakfast, lunch and Pandemic EBT benefits. No one in the Commonwealth should feel food insecure but unfortunately, we are dealing with record levels of hunger as the COVID-19 crisis continues on.”

Newly eligible children who are engaged in fully remote or hybrid learning are set to receive their first P-EBT benefits on Feb. 25.

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