ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The state of Alaska has extended a deadline for families to enroll in a new federal program providing up to $458 per eligible child to help pay for groceries.
Alaska Public Media reported Tuesday that families have until the end of September to enroll for benefits available through the pandemic-EBT program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture describes the program as a supplemental food purchasing benefit to current participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, and as a benefit to other eligible households that is intended to offset the cost of meals that children would otherwise have eaten at school.
The state estimates about 44,000 Alaska children qualify for the program, said Shawnda O’Brien, director of the state Division of Public Assistance.
A troubled start left some residents unaware the funds were available.
“It was becoming apparent that many people in communities around Alaska had not received the notice yet,” O’Brien said. “The right thing to do was to extend the deadline.”
The Food Bank of Alaska has established an electronic form and text message and call-in services to assist with enrollment.
Various technical issues and delays plagued the launch of the program in Alaska.
The public assistance division was forced to wait for data from the state education department this summer, and then a computer system crashed, O’Brien said.
The division did not have the technology resources to launch an online portal for the program and subsequently mailed a paper form to about 31,000 Alaskans, who were required to return them by mail.
Some people mistakenly believed the paperwork was a scam, while many of those who returned the forms experienced postal delays.
“I think all of us have experienced that mail delay issue, whether you’re in Juneau or Anchorage or anywhere else in the state,” O’Brien said. “It’s considerably more challenging the further away you are from main hubs.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.