In this March 17, 2017, file photo, a sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer’s market in Topsham. The U.S. government has approved Maine’s plan to provide new EBT benefits for SNAP recipients and those not enrolled in the program with children who would otherwise receive free or reduced-price lunch but aren’t able to because of school closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

More than 82,000 of Maine’s public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals as part of a new federal program aimed at helping families survive the pandemic, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said Wednesday.

Maine is among 20 states participating in the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program, a new initiative authorized by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 18. The temporary EBT cards will pay $5.70 per meal per child to feed the 82,000 eligible students, many of whom already receive aid from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

With schools shut down by coronavirus restrictions starting March 10 and almost 44 percent of all Maine public students eligible for SNAP meals or food money, coronavirus restrictions have cut the SNAP students, and others, off from what is often “the only source of food they can rely on,” Pingree said in a statement.

Families with at least one child under 18 who normally has access to free or reduced-price meals at school will be eligible for P-EBT. The $5.70 per meal per child benefit will roll over month-to-month but must be used within one year, Pingree said.

States may issue P-EBT benefits retroactively, provided that schools were closed for at least five consecutive days during the emergency. State officials estimate that Maine will issue at least $15.4 million to 23,582 SNAP households and $1.5 million to 2,221 non-SNAP households for school closures extending from March 16 through June 18, a total of 67 days, according to a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that outlines the program.