LEWISTON — In early May, the state announced a new federal program would give Maine families $383 for every child who receives free or reduced-price meals at school. The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, or P-EBT, was created as part of a coronavirus relief package approved by Congress and was designed to help families who were so poor they would likely struggle to afford food.

A month later, some of those families are still waiting for the money.

“I can’t get any answers … it’s like nobody knows what I’m talking about,” one woman commented on the statewide Maine Coronavirus Community Assistance Facebook group, where posts about the delay can quickly garner over 100 comments.

“I keep putting off grocery shopping because I want to be able to use that,” wrote another.

Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Jackie Farwell said the vendor that issues EBT cards for several states, including Maine, is experiencing high demand as a result of the federal P-EBT program. Money could be delayed for up to another three weeks.

“We remain committed to providing these critical benefits to eligible families as soon as possible,” she said.

The money was supposed to go out in two rounds, with $189 per child sent in May and $194 per child sent in June.

The program serves two groups: families who receive SNAP or TANF benefits and those who receive free or discounted school meals. About 26,000 SNAP and TANF families already received their money for May and were slated to receive their money for June this week, Farwell said. That’s because those families already have EBT cards for SNAP and TANF and the pandemic funds can be loaded on to those.

But families that receive free and discounted school meals don’t have an EBT card. They’ll need a new one in order to get the money.

And those cards are still being printed.

The delay has concerned families, who were excited about the benefit when it was announced but increasingly frustrated as each week passed without a word about the money.

“June 5 is here and still no P-EBT … anybody know when the next date might be? I call DHHS and get the runaround,” one woman posted on the Maine Coronavirus Community Assistance Facebook group.

“I’m not holding my breath for any,” responded one person.

Families qualify for SNAP if they earn up to 138% of the federal poverty line. They qualify for free or discounted school meals if they earn up to 175% of the federal poverty line, or about $46,000 a year for a family of four.

Amy Regan Gallant, vice president of advocacy for the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, has said there are 2,221 households in Maine that qualify for the P-EBT money but don’t already have a card through SNAP.

While the P-EBT money is automatically given to families that receive SNAP and TANF, all other families, including those who receive free and discounted school lunches, must request it. They can apply by calling 1-855-797-4357.

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