The first distribution of nutritional benefits to public school students is scheduled for Aug. 20 and, while that remains the target date, it appears a plan for distribution has not been set.

"The challenge is to push out the 28,000 cards," said Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez. "We have to design something that's going to work for our students."

GDOE is working with the Department of Public Health and Social Services to design a plan that would get nearly $2.8 million in nutritional assistance benefits to public school students through Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

Through P-EBT, eligible schoolchildren receive temporary emergency nutrition benefits loaded on EBT cards that are used to purchase food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Eligible students will receive roughly $1,200 in benefits to cover the period of missed school meals as a result of the pandemic, according to Fernandez. He said it doesn't matter which learning model students are enrolled in, they all will receive the same benefits.

With distribution three weeks away, there is a push to get these benefits to students, Fernandez said, but he wants to make sure federal requirements are met.

"The 20th is right around the corner, so when we meet Public Health on Monday we will talk through what the issues will be," Fernandez said.

Fernandez said officials will continue discussions on the distribution plan. He said Public Health has the final say and right now there are several options on the table.

Options are to make distribution either school-based or region-based, and whether distribution times will be available during the workweek or weekend. Concerns deal with transportation and time of distribution. 

"We want to make it as easy as possible for parents to pick up their cards," Fernandez said.

There are federal requirements to account for the cards.

Fernandez said it's up to Public Health to meet the Aug. 20 distribution date.

"My understanding, that is still the target until I hear something different," Fernandez said, adding GDOE wants to help Public Health "get the job done."

Over the last 18 months, GDOE has had its share of distribution experience with the Grab-N-Go meal program and hard copy learning materials. Fernandez hopes to be able to share those experiences with Public Health.

Once the plan is set and distribution begins, Fernandez said parents can expect a letter of eligibility in the mail. Drafts of the documents are being reviewed by GDOE and Public Health.

The P-EBT benefits will be distributed on four anticipated issuance dates, according to the plan. The first is Aug. 20. The second is Aug. 31. The third is Sept. 18, and the last is expected to be Sept. 30.

Fernandez said details about the amount of benefits issued are being discussed.

Options are to provide a lump-sum benefit or spread out the benefits over periods of time. Fernandez said benefits on the cards will be available for a period of one year from the issuance date.

Parents with multiple students enrolled in GDOE can expect to receive a card for each child, he said.

The P-EBT program was made available through the USDA and is administered locally by Public Health.

The rules of the P-EBT program align with the entities that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which for Guam means that GDOE and Department of Defense Education Activity schools are included.

"The charter schools are not participants and neither are private schools participants in the school lunch program, therefore they are not eligible for that benefit," Fernandez said. "Those are the rules for the program."

Even if students from charter schools come from low-income families or fall under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, they still would not qualify.

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