NORFOLK, Va.— A Norfolk parent is sounding the alarm on issues with pandemic food assistance funds she should have received.
Now, Norfolk Public Schools is launching an investigation into around 23,000 students' P-EBT information after they made a mistake.
Kathy Blanchard and her husband recently adopted their daughter. She says it’s not easy surviving during the pandemic, but like many families, they manage to get by with help.
Blanchard received a Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) card for her daughter, who attends Norfolk Public Schools (NPS).
“I didn't know anything about the card, nobody really received any information. I almost threw it away because it was in a plain envelope,” says Blanchard.
P-EBT assistance supports students who would have received free or reduced-price meals while school was shut down.
Students get $5.70 per day for up to the 66 days missed due to the pandemic.
Parents should get the full $376 for each child who qualified when the shutdown was announced March 13 and a prorated amount for students who qualified later.
“As I started reading about it, I was like, ‘Whoa. Something's not right,’” says Blanchard.
Blanchard only got $193. Her daughter qualified for the full amount, so she was missing $183.
“I tried contacting the school; they knew nothing about it. I tried contacting the department of nutrition in downtown Norfolk; they knew nothing about it. Everybody's waiting on me to find out something to let them know,” she explained while talking to News 3 Wednesday.
Frustrated and getting the run-around, Blanchard reached out to News 3 for answers.
Norfolk Public Schools says they received other complaints about issues with money and those parents were referred to the Virginia Department of Social Services.
Blanchard was the first person to tip them off that there were problems with their dates showing when students were eligible. NPS confirmed Blanchard’s daughter should have received more money but didn’t because of incorrect data in their system.
Now, NPS says it is doing a full audit of around 23,000 students' information who received P-EBT.
In a statement to News 3, Norfolk Public Schools says:
Norfolk Public Schools’ Department of School Nutrition has submitted approximately 23,000 eligible students’ information to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) and the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) for the unprecedented Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program. These students are currently enrolled with NPS and have lost access to their free or reduced-price school meals due to the COVID-19 closure. A concerned parent recently brought to NPS’ attention that the identified time line of the eligibility for the student in question was incorrect, therefore lowering the amount of the P-EBT benefit received. School Nutrition staff researched this issue and confirmed the eligibility information was incorrect. As a result, staff began reviewing its database to ascertain how other students might be affected. Once identification of such instances is confirmed, School Nutrition staff will update any incorrect eligibility information with VDOE and VDSS so that the students will receive their proper, respective amounts. Staff will also contact any family whose information is identified as incorrect, advising them how the school division will proceed in correcting the information. We regret any inconvenience to families and will also provide direction on receiving additional food assistance in the interim. NPS has remained committed to providing meals to students and school-aged children within the community during this extended school closure, regardless of eligibility. Staff will continue to serve grab-n-go meals throughout the summer on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the already established locations around the City. The bags provide seven days’ worth of breakfast and lunch. In addition to the grab-n-go bags, supplemental food assistance is available by calling School Nutrition at 757- 628-2760.
NPS say they don’t know how many students have been affected right now.
NPS currently provides “grab-n-go” meals during the week and on weekends. They are also partnered with the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore to distribute boxes with non-perishables food items to families.
Anyone who thinks they should have received more money should contact School Nutrition at 757- 628-2760 so staff can help secure any additional food assistance needed in the interim.