Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Local families to get extra food funds as pandemic help


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Ironwood — Qualifying Michigan families, including those enrolled in the Ironwood Area Schools, are expected to receive additional assistance with their grocery budgets in the coming weeks as the state distributes funds through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program.

The EBT cards will go to families with children who qualify for free or reduced school meals, with eligible 18-26 year olds enrolled in special education programs also receiving funds.

As Ironwood is one of the districts that qualifies for free meals for all its students through a Community Eligibility Provision, all families enrolled in the district qualify for the funds.

“Every child in our school will receive this benefit,” Food Service Director Mary Hampston Kusz said.

The state began mailing the cards last week, and is expected to continue through the middle of this month. Families can also expect to receive letters explaining the program and its benefits.

Under the pandemic EBT program, every child will receive a combined $193 for March and April and a combined $182 for May and June.

The cards are valid for a year, according to Hampston Kusz, and unused funds roll over each month.

“They don’t have to use it up in those months,” she said.

Unlike the EBT cards qualifying families have gotten over the summer in past years, Hampston Kusz said the pandemic benefits can be used on a wider variety of food purchases.

Students already receiving SNAP benefits will receive the funds on their existing cards, according to Hampston Kusz, and families with multiple children will receive one card with the funds for all their kids on it.

Cards will be mailed to whichever address is on file with the district, she said, and kids don’t have to be present when parents or guardians use the card at stores.

As the school isn’t in charge of the EBT program, Hampston Kusz said anyone with questions or concerns should call 833-905-0028.

Although the funds will help with grocery bills, Ironwood Superintendent Travis Powell said they aren’t intended to replace the weekly food distribution the district has been operating each Monday.

Powell said State Superintendent Michael Rice recently addressed the issue in a conference call with school district officials from across the Upper Peninsula.

“He indicated that it’s his understanding that the state’s intention is to try and shore up food insecurity challenges for families across the state and not just replace one program with a different program,” Powell said, adding there may be additional assistance coming in the future beyond the two programs.

Ironwood has been providing meals for close to 600 kids a week, Powell and Hampston Kusz said, praising the staff and volunteers who helped make the distribution of 3,000 lunches and 3,000 breakfasts each week possible.

“They are like a well-oiled machine, it is unbelievable,” Hampston Kusz said.

So far, the feedback on the food distribution has been positive, according to Hampston Kusz. She said many families have told her how the school lunches seem to provide their kids with a feeling of normalcy during the upheaval of the pandemic.

Along with working on the current efforts, both Powell and Hampston Kusz said Ironwood is expecting to have some form of summer lunch program — although the details of what it will look like are still being determined.