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‘We’re doing our part:’ Parents fed up with waiting for kids P-EBT cards

Updated: Apr. 24, 2021 at 9:56 AM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Several parents say they’re fed up with waiting for their kid’s Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) cards.

The money meant to help feed their kids during the school year was supposed to be issued last week but never showed up.

Now those families want to know what’s the hold up with receiving the benefits.

Heather Croy is one of those parents in Horry County who are demanding answers.

“I don’t want anyone to think I’m trying to be greedy and get free grocery money,” she said. “But it helps out. I don’t work anymore. I don’t have that income. And it was granted to these students. There are a lot of families right now that need that extra money.”

Croy says her kids are eligible to receive the P-EBT benefits.

Last week, she said her children’s attendance records were updated for the second semester while the majority of first-semester attendance for both kids has them marked as not present.

Croy believes this is why she’s waiting to receive her first issuance of P-EBT benefits.

“It’s frustrating,” she said.

The funds are administered by the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Department of Social Services.

SCDE pulls the attendance data from the online portal PowerSchool. School leaders said that information is then sent to DSS so the funds can be put on the card.

Eligible families receive $6.82 for each day school leaders mark their child virtually present for classes.

Per the DSS website, a child is eligible for the benefits if they meet three criteria:

  • Enrolled in a free and reduced-price school meals program or attending a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school
  • Attending a school experiencing pandemic-triggered closures or reduced attendance/hours
  • Attending school virtually, either full-time or on a hybrid schedule

The first issuance of funds, based on a student’s virtual classroom presence from September 2020 to December 2020, was mailed out earlier this month.

Timeline for distribution of P-EBT benefits
Timeline for distribution of P-EBT benefits(DSS)

But many families with kids attending full-time virtual learning have voiced concerns, saying they never received the first issuance cards.

These parents want to know who’s responsible for helping them fix what, so they can receive their food benefits: the school district, the SCDE, or DSS?

A DSS spokesperson said parents need to ensure the schools or school districts are their first line of contact with attendance concerns. That’s because the SCDE is pulling the attendance data from the district’s PowerSchool site.

She said that information is then provided to DSS.

But there were a few hiccups with the issuance process last week, which left some families confused about the process.

The SCDE released a memo Tuesday, stating the first issuance of the P-EBT cards highlighted some “unexpected issues with the systems and data.”

Those issues may have contributed to some families not receiving their benefits promptly.

Per the SCDE memo:

• Students are only eligible for days they were engaged in virtual learning through either a 100 percent virtual schedule or a hybrid schedule.

• Students are only paid for days where they were marked virtually present for 50 percent or more of the school day.

• Districts must ensure that attendance data has been entered correctly for students. The PowerSchool default is that a student is physically present.

•A district must take action to mark a student absent with an attendance code. o A district must take action to mark a student Virtually Present (SC-VTP) when that is the modality and the student has met the criteria. See the memoranda dated August 4, 2020, and December 8, 2020, and the frequently asked questions document.

• In some instances, a teacher instructing virtually is assigned to a school other than the school to which a student is assigned. Some districts are recording those students as Virtually Present at the school where the teacher is located, not at the school where the student is enrolled. o In the initial data analysis, those students not marked Virtually Present at the school of their enrollment were not counted as Virtually Present. o In the next data run, the SCDE will review the data from the district level to determine whether the students were Virtually Present at any school in the district. • Issues arose with students taking dual enrollment courses. Attendance for these courses is not taken in PowerSchool. College professors are not required to take attendance in PowerSchool; those attendance records are kept at the college level. In some instances, this meant that the students were not counted as attending virtually for at least one-half of the day. o In the next data run, the SCDE will review whether students were present in dual enrollment courses were also Virtually Present in at least one other course that school day. If the students’ attendance records indicate virtual presence and dual enrollment course(s), then the student will be considered Virtually Present for at least one-half of the school day, and eligible for P-EBT.

SCDE spokesperson Ryan Brown said the department has been resolving the technical issues on their side to ensure eligible families receive their benefits.

He says it’s important for families to know where they should go to get attendance-related issues resolved.

Brown says families eligible to receive the P-EBT cards, and are waiting for their first issuance, tend to fall into one of two categories.

The first category, according to Brown, is when a child did not get the full benefits they were entitled to under the P-EBT program. If it’s due to a school attendance issue, he said it must be brought to the attendance personnel for the school district.

“If that is the case and those records need to be fixed, it’s either on the school level or the state level,” Brown said. “The state-level ones have already been fixed but if it’s an attendance issue at the school level, the school would need to fix those records. Those records will be pulled by us and sent to DSS and those additional benefits will be loaded onto the card the parent and the child already received.”

Brown said the second scenario is where eligible families haven’t received any of the benefits.

“The same process needs to take place with the records being corrected but a new card will be issued to the parent and the child,” he said. “That can take up to six weeks for that to happen.”

Brown added the solution may lie with the respective school districts and not the state.

WMBF News reached out to Horry County Schools to confirm how attendance issues in PowerSchool can be resolved. The District’s Spokesperson provided this statement:

“At this point, we have corrected all attendance issues of which we have been made aware. If other issues are presented by parents or by the SCDE, we will resolve them as quickly as possible. Parents can contact our attendance office with questions at attendanceHCSVirtual@horrycountyschools.net. We are always happy to review any records with parents.”

Croy told me she’s gone through the proper channels.

She says she talked with Horry County Schools and was told on their end her child’s attendance was updated. Croy looked at the portal again Friday, but nothing had changed.

Croy provided our news team numerous attendance records for her kid’s first semester. The documents show dashes underneath the majority of dates for the first semester.

Documents from the SCDE state attendance records should have VTP listed for the student to be marked virtually present for classes.

Croy is confident this is the reason her kids have not received their P-EBT funds.

“When DSS pulls the information from PowerSchool if it’s still showing zero-attendance for those dates, how are they going to pay me for that,” she said. “We’re doing the work, we’re doing our part.”

Several other parents also spoke with WMBF News and said their child’s attendance records need to be updated for the first semester.

DSS said how soon eligible families receive the first issuance of P-EBT depends on when your child’s information is updated in PowerSchool.

The DSS spokesperson also said families only need to contact their office in the event they don’t receive the P-EBT benefits long after their child’s records have been updated correctly on PowerSchool.

The SCDE also says it’s working to resolve any issues as quickly as possible.

“The vast majority of students and families received the benefits properly,” said Brown. “But we understand that with any new programs there are some errors that occur. And those are being corrected as quickly as possible. The benefits will be sent out as soon as they’re corrected so everyone should expect to have the full benefits of the program in a timely matter.”

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