FOREST CITY — Parents of all children in the Rutherford County Schools (RCS) will get a lump-sum financial boost from the state, because of meals the students were missing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced this week that it will provide the benefits through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, to help families purchase food for children whose access to free and reduced-priced meals at school has been impacted by remote learning this fall. The program provides a benefit on an EBT card that can be used to buy food at authorized retailers, including most major grocery stores.

Parents qualify if their children were eligible to access free or reduced-priced meals at school last year, and their district utilized remote learning for all students for at least five consecutive school days between Aug. 17 and Sept. 30. Because all students in RCS system receive meals free of charge, all qualify for the one-time payment.

Because of remote learning for several months in the spring, families received a benefit of $371 per child. This fall they will receive $58.60 per child.

For families who already participate in the state’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) program, often called food stamps, the extra money will be added to the EBT debit card that they already use. For families who do not participate in FNS, an EBT debit card will be mailed to them.

Families do not need to apply for P-EBT. Officials say families being mailed a new card will receive it within the next two to three weeks.

“I think this is a good thing,” said Kandi Bridges, economic services administrator with Rutherford County Department of Social Services (DSS). “I know this will be helpful to a lot of families.”

John Carroll, Rutherford County DSS director, also is pleased with the P-EBT program.

“Certainly, the additional funds to purchase food is helpful to any family, but I believe that P-EBT is especially a needed, welcome benefit for low income families, even if their income has not been affected by the pandemic,” Carroll said. “Low income families struggle to make ends meet all the time, and those P-EBT benefits offer them the opportunity to feel some relief and reduce some stress, during this pandemic.”

If families have additional questions, they may contact the EBT Call Center: 866-719-0141.