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'I Don't Know What To Believe Any More': Confusion Over P-EBT Meal Card

CHICAGO (CBS) -- About a million of the neediest kids across the state will be receiving debit card dollars to buy food thanks to an extra $110 million dollars a month in federal funding.

But on Thursday night, an email went out from CPS that said all students would get the benefit regardless of income.

And that lead to some confusion. CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reports on the confusing information.

The announcement from the state said the money was for kids who would have qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. But CPS said it's in a special category and can offer it to all of its students.

"So I will go get all the food, portion it out and say 'there you go. There's lunch.'"

Elizabeth Harris' fridge is full now. Luckily, the CPS mom was able to pick up food from her sixth grader's school Friday afternoon. Because her current benefits debit card doesn't have a dollar on it.

"I know that I reload on the 10th, but today is the 26th," Harris said.

Out of work due to the pandemic, she relies on these funds and the lunch pickups at school to feed her family. But she said this week's announcement of additional funds on a new card left her with a lot of questions.

"I don't know what to believe anymore," Harris said. "So it's been very confusing."

Jennie Biggs with Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education said the bewilderment is widespread.

"I think there is confusion but there will be more confusion in March," Biggs said. "When people just get this card in the mail, which is exactly what's going to happen."

While families had to qualify for the cards last spring, now every CPS student is eligible for P-EBT. This is not the case across the state but CPS said it has  a special provision.

"Any parent that's watching this now, you need to make sure that in the Aspen system, which is like the rating system. (It's) the attendance system that your addresses up to date, so that you receive the card, especially if you need it," Biggs said.

Harris said it's good news for families in her situation but she hopes all parents are aware.

"There needs to be a clear communication to us, to all parents," Harris said. "Because we are confused and our kids are acting like they're starving."

So what if you're a CPS parent and you don't need these benefits? What can you do?

CPS said you have two options:

*Simply do not use the benefits. Benefits will remain available to you for one year. If you do not use the benefits, they will be removed from your card after a year.

*Or you can request that the benefits be removed from the account right away. You can authorize this verbally on the phone (1-833-621-0737). Once benefits are removed, they will not be reissued if your circumstances change.

CPS sent a statement to CBS 2:

Due to CPS' participation in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) (in which all students in the school district are eligible for free meals), all CPS students, regardless of family income, qualify for the P-EBT program. This is consistent with the CEP language in IDPH's online guidance.

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