Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer payments raised overall spending on USDA’s child nutrition programs in FY 2020
In March 2020, as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the closure of schools nationwide, the provision of meals to children through USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) was disrupted. In response, Congress authorized the creation of the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program to reimburse families whose children were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals for the value of the school meals their children missed due to pandemic-related school closures. In the first half of fiscal year (FY) 2020 (October 2019 through March 2020), spending on USDA’s largest child nutrition programs was about the same as in the first half of FY 2019 (October 2018 through March 2019). Those programs are the NSLP, SBP, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). With the onset of the pandemic, spending on the NSLP, SBP, and CACFP fell to about $4.7 billion in the second half of FY 2020, a sharp decline compared to the roughly $9.9 billion spent on the programs over the same period in FY 2019. Although this decline was somewhat offset by about $3.9 billion in spending on SFSP in the latter half of FY 2020, overall spending on the four programs declined. However, P-EBT spending in the second half of FY 2020 amounted to about $10.7 billion, bringing total FY 2020 USDA expenditures on nutrition programs targeting children to $32.3 billion, or $8.7 billion more than all FY 2019 expenditures. This chart appears in the Amber Waves feature Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Transformed the U.S. Federal Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape, released October 4, 2021.