About Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) Benefits
If you have school-age children at home, you may be eligible for a new food assistance program now. Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) provides extra food benefits for families during COVID-19.
Increase Your Family’s Food Budget
P-EBT is a benefit that can help buy food for school-age children between the ages of 3-17 and youth aged 18-22 (in high school). P-EBT is available for children and youth who receive free and reduced-price meals and lack access to an in-school lunch.
Get answers to your questions about P-EBT food benefits for Illinois residents below. (Leer en español.)
Frequently Asked Questions
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) provides benefits to certain children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches under the National School Lunch Act. P-EBT is a temporary food benefit program operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. P-EBT only provides benefits for days that students lack access to an in-school lunch. P-EBT provides $6.82 per each school day that children are engaged in remote learning. P-EBT benefits will be retroactive to the start of the 2020-2021 school year based on the child’s attendance record.
Your child and your school must meet certain criteria to be eligible for P-EBT:
- Must be enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals at a school operating the National School Lunch Program; OR,
- Must be enrolled in a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision-2 school, which offers breakfast and lunch free to all students; AND,
- Must have not had access to an in-school lunch at least some days of the month.
- Must operate the National School Lunch Program; AND,
- Must have been closed or operating at reduced capacity at least 5 consecutive days at some point during the 2020-2021 School Year.
Families do not need to apply for P-EBT. Cards are automatically mailed to eligible families. However, your child must receive free or reduced-price meals at school AND the address you have on file with your child’s school must be correct.
If your child is already enrolled in free or reduced-price school meals OR your child’s school provides meals free to all students AND your address is up-to-date:
- Your family will get P-EBT automatically. Each child will receive their own card.
- Cards were initially mailed out in March.
- Cards will arrive in an unmarked envelope so please be on the lookout.
- Families should hold onto their P-EBT card(s) because future benefits will be loaded onto the same card.
If you are new to a school district, if your child did not receive free or reduced-price meals last school year OR if you recently moved:
- You must fill out an application for free or reduced-price school meals by contacting your school.
If you are homeless or don’t have a regular address where you can receive mail, you can use your school’s address. Families should talk with their school’s homeless liaison coordinator to assist them. The child’s P-EBT card will be mailed to the school where the family can pick it up.
Benefits will be issued for August 2020 through June 2021 for the days that students haven’t had access to in-person lunch during the 2020-2021 school year.
- In March, families received distribution for the months of August 2020 through December 2020.
- In April, families received distribution for January 2021 through March.
- Beginning in May, families will receive a monthly benefit for the remainder of the school year.
Benefits will be issued between the 11th and 22nd of each month going by the first letter of the student’s last name. Students’ benefits will be issued on the same day in subsequent months so your family can plan your food budget.
Benefit cards were mailed at the end of March. Please be patient as some areas are experiencing mailing delays. If you have not received your card, please call the Illinois Department of Human Services at 1-833-621-0737 or email [email protected]
Please note: The DHS P-EBT Hotline is experiencing high call volume and you may hear an error message or busy signal when the line is full. Please try calling back later or visit the DHS P-EBT website to update your address and view FAQs. If you would like to freeze your P-EBT card, get a new card mailed, change your PIN or check your balance, you can call the LINK helpline at 1-800-678-5465.
Yes, you will need to activate the P-EBT card by calling the phone number on the card. When you activate the card, it will ask for social security number, date of birth and PIN.
- When prompted for social security number, you should only use the number 9 for the entire social security number. Enter this for the social security number: 999-99-9999.
- For date of birth, you must enter your child’s birthday.
- You will choose a PIN for the card. When you go shopping, you will enter this PIN in order to make a purchase with the card.
There are two ways to check your balance:
- Call the LINK hotline at 1-800-678-5465 (LINK). You will be prompted to enter your card number to hear your balance.
- Visit ebt-link.illinois.gov. You will be prompted to enter your card number and your balance will display on the screen. When prompted for social security number, you should only use the number 9 for the entire social security number. This site says that Illinois Link cardholders can view their account, but it also works for P-EBT cards.
Yes. If you lose your P-EBT card, call the LINK hotline at 1-800-678-5465 (LINK) or visit www.link.illinois.gov. When you order a new card, the previous card will immediately be retired. The PIN you selected for your original card will transfer to your replacement card, but you can change your PIN at any time.
Your benefits are issued to your LINK account, not to a specific card. You can order a replacement card at any time.
No. P-EBT was not included in the public charge test and does not count in a public charge test. All students are eligible regardless of immigration status. As of March 9, 2021, ex-president Trump’s public charge rule is no longer in effect in Illinois or nationwide so many previously public benefits that counted towards public charge will no longer be counted. Some of these include SNAP and housing assistance, among others. Visit Protecting Immigrant Families for information about what public benefits impact the public charge test.
Yes, children and teens can still receive free meals from school and community sites AND get P-EBT, too – they are separate programs.
- To find free meal sites near you, text the word “food” or “comida” to “877-877”
- You can also visit your school district website to find school meal locations in your area.
You do not need to apply for P-EBT, but you must make sure your child is enrolled in free or reduced-price meals OR attends a CEP school where all meals are provided for free AND that your address is up-to-date with your school.
No, you will receive a new P-EBT card with the student’s name on the card. Each month, benefits will automatically be loaded onto that card for as long as P-EBT operates.
Yes, you will receive a new P-EBT card with the student’s name on the card. Each month, benefits will automatically be loaded onto that card for as long as P-EBT operates.
No, you will receive a new EBT card with the student’s name on the card specifically for P-EBT. Each month, benefits will automatically be loaded onto that card for as long as P-EBT operates.
No, P-EBT benefits are supposed to replace the meals that students receive in person at the school. A student who is in the classroom full-time will receive meals at the school instead of receiving a P-EBT benefit. If they have an excused absence related to COVID-19, they can receive P-EBT for those days.
Yes, your child’s attendance will be counted by the school and they will receive a benefit amount based on the number of days that they lack access to an in-school lunch.
You can still get P-EBT but you must apply for free or reduced-price meals with your child’s school. You may be eligible for benefits retroactive to August but you should apply as soon as possible.
Click here to view the income eligibility guidelines for free or reduced-price school meals.
No, you cannot get P-EBT benefits for the 2019-2020 school year. However, you may be eligible to receive benefits retroactively to the start of this school year (August 2020) if your child was engaged in remote learning.
Yes, your participation in government programs does not affect your ability to get food from a food pantry.
P-EBT benefits are provided on a card that can be used like a debit card to purchase food at SNAP authorized grocery stores. Use this locator to find a store near you.
If you do not want to use the P-EBT benefits your child is eligible for, you have two options:
- Simply do not use the benefits. Benefits will remain available to you for one year. If your circumstances change over the next year and you need the benefits, you can still use them.
- Request that the benefits be removed from your account right away. Call 1-833-621-0737. Once your identity is confirmed, you can request benefits be removed. You can also use the DHS P-EBT General Inquiry Request and select “Voluntary Return of P-EBT benefits.” Please note: once benefits are removed, they will not be reissued if your circumstances change.
Your benefits will be available for one year since the last time that you purchased groceries with them. After 365 days of no use, and no new benefits being added to your card, your benefits will expire.
Child Care P-EBT is a new program that provides grocery benefits for children from birth through age 5. Learn more and find out if your family is eligible.