Credit: David Veksler

Starting this summer, New York State will launch the federally approved Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (Summer EBT) program. Its purpose is to help low-income families provide nutritious food for their children during the summer months when they don’t have access to school meals. 

Each eligible child will receive a one-time payment of $120 on an EBT card, which can be used to buy food at grocery stores, farmers markets, and other retailers. Any funds not used within 122 days of EBT card issuance will expire. 

The program comes after the food assistance available through pandemic EBT (P-EBT) ended last summer. Unlike P-EBT, not all students in New York City’s public schools, which have universal meals, will be eligible for the new program. 

Children need to be eligible as individuals, either through programs like SNAP or temporary assistance or through a Summer EBT application. Household income is key. 

Each eligible child will receive a one-time payment of $120 on an EBT card. Credit: Scott Warman

Immigration status is not a factor

You don’t need to be a U.S. citizen to apply and qualify for Summer EBT. And Summer EBT does not affect immigration status, according to a spokesperson from the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), which administers Summer EBT. 

This means that receiving Summer EBT benefits and using them at the store has no impact on somebody’s efforts to seek a green card or asylum. It’s not considered for public charge determinations. 

Food access advocates say eligible families may fail to apply due to mistrust and misinformation around public charge, especially among immigrants. 

“It’s coming up against this chilling effect,” said Krista Hesdorfer, the director of public affairs at the nonprofit organization Hunger Solutions New York. “There have been attempts in the last several years to attach nutrition programs to public charge, and it’s led to a lot of confusion and understandable hesitation to participate in federal programs of any kind. So really our work is cut out for us in clarifying that participating in any of the federal nutrition programs, including Summer EBT, is not part of public charge.” 

How it works

There are two ways to receive Summer EBT:

Child is automatically enrolled

  • How to qualify:
    • If they received SNAP, Temporary Assistance, or Medicaid at any time in the
      2023-24 school year
    • Or they are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals (not just part of a school with universal meals)
  • What this means for you
    • You do NOT need to apply
      • $120 will appear on your EBT card (if you already have an EBT card) 
    • Or if you don’t already have an EBT card, the EBT card with $120 will be mailed to you beginning in mid-July or August and continuing over 4 to 6 weeks

You apply to Summer EBT (if your child is not automatically enrolled)

  • How to qualify
    • If your child attends a school that is part of the National School Lunch Program
    • Your household’s income must also be at or below the limits for eligibility for free/reduced-price school meals
  • What this means for you
    • Apply online at this link starting July 1
    • If your child is eligible, you could receive benefits as early as August or as late as October 2024 (depending on when the application was submitted)

If you need to apply, these are the household income guidelines to see if your child is eligible:

Household SizeGross Annual IncomeGross Monthly Income
Each additional person+$9,953+$830
Credit: New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)

Since it’s the first time families will navigate Summer EBT, Epicenter NYC has been informing our communities about the program alongside our in-person vaccine access efforts and on social media

We turned to ODTA to answer some of our communities’ most pressing questions. Here’s what to know about the program, eligibility, and how to apply (lightly edited for clarity):

Credit: Screengrab/Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance

We know immigrant status does not affect eligibility. What about shelter residence?

No. Children who are documented as homeless by their school should be automatically eligible for benefits. 

Are there any challenges with the process that you anticipate for families who live in shelters?

The challenge will be to successfully deliver a benefit card to a current address if the family has recently relocated. OTDA will have an online form to update a child’s address if needed for the purpose of receiving a benefit card. Families can also call the Summer EBT call center for assistance.

Particularly for families with technology barriers, is there also a paper application available? Are families able to apply in an office? 

There will be a paper application in multiple languages that can be downloaded from the Summer EBT website, or people can call the Summer EBT call center to request that one be mailed to them. 

The paper application has to be filled out and mailed in. We strongly encourage families to use the online application, as it is the fastest way to apply and could result in the household receiving their benefits more quickly.

Are there applications available in languages other than English? 

The online application will be available in English and Spanish. The paper application will be available in 12 languages. 

What languages will the Summer EBT Customer Service Call Center be able to serve?  

The Summer EBT call center can serve callers in any language. The Interactive Voice Response system is available in nine languages. Live agents are available for any language via a live interpreter service.

Are there any organizations where NYC families that need to apply or have specific language, cultural, technological or other needs can go for assistance with Summer EBT applications? 

Hunger Free America will be assisting families in NYC with Summer EBT applications. Families can call Hunger Free America at 646-355-1475 for application assistance in multiple languages. 

Additionally, OTDA has been providing information and presentations to a variety of community-based organizations and other service providers throughout the state, with information and resources to assist families. 

Outreach materials from the Summer EBT program have been made available for use by any community partner or school.

Are there any specific circumstances that might disqualify a child who appears to meet the eligibility criteria? 

Children who meet the eligibility criteria listed will be issued a benefit. Unless there is a case of intentional fraud, there are no other restrictions. 

Organizations like Hunger Free America can help NYC families who need to apply for Summer EBT. Credit: Maria Lin Kim

For families that need to apply, what are the key differences between eligibility for Summer EBT and the eligibility requirements for other assistance programs like SNAP or the National School Lunch Program?  

The eligibility criteria for Summer EBT is the same as the National School Lunch Program. The application is also modeled on the National School Lunch Program’s Free and Reduced Price meals application. 

Your office states families will not need to provide any documentation to apply. Some families may be asked to provide proof of income later — what would that proof of income look like, and how and when would they be asked for that proof of income?  

OTDA is still finalizing the process for verification, and once that is final, any family subject to verification will be notified what documents they need to provide to prove the reported income is accurate. For 2024, verification is limited to situations where there is conflicting or questionable information provided on the application. 

Will this funding be available to anyone who is eligible this year? Is there any possibility the agency will run out of money before that September deadline?  

All benefits are federally funded, and any child who meets all eligibility requirements (including filing a timely application by September 3) is entitled to a benefit. 

Is this a pilot program, or will it definitely happen annually? 

This is not a pilot program. Federal regulations require that for states participating in Summer EBT, they issue benefits one time per year at the beginning of summer. 

Families that need to apply for Summer EBT must do so by September 3. Credit: Sydney Rae

Are there additional resources or support services available to families participating in the Summer EBT program? I.e., other food or health support programs that might be connected to this?  

In addition to Summer EBT, children 18 years of age and younger can also receive free meals during the summer at a summer meals site. Parents can call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (or text “food” to 304-304) to find the location closest to them.

Is there a more specific timeline of when automatically eligible families will see the extra funds on their benefit card, or when they’ll receive the letters/text messages that the benefits have been issued?

Eligibility letters for public school students who are automatically eligible will start to be mailed in late June and continue through the month of July.

For a more detailed description of when benefits will be issued, visit here.

From where does NY-ODTA source the contact information that they’ll be using to mail home letters and to send text messages? If the contact information is not up to date, do families still have time to update their mailing address or phone number, and how?

The most current address is determined from a variety of sources, including student enrollment rosters provided by NYS Education Department, NYS Department of Health Medicaid files, and OTDA SNAP caseload files. 

Once a Summer EBT benefit is issued, information on when a household needs to update their address and how to do so can be found here

What are the most common questions you have received about the Summer EBT program? 

  1. When will benefits be issued
  1. How do I get a replacement card and/or update my address so that I can have a replacement card mailed to me? 
  1. How will I know if my child is automatically eligible?  

They will receive a letter in the mail. Or, you can review this eligibility flow chart.

Is there any other information about the Summer EBT Program you think is important?

Most children do not need to apply. In fact, about 85% of all eligible children in NYS will be issued a benefit automatically and do not need to apply. 

For those that do, the application guidelines are here.

Unused Summer EBT benefits expire and are removed from the EBT card 122 days after the date they are issued. Families should use their benefits soon after they are received.

Lastly, families should be sure to KEEP the benefit card that they use to access Summer EBT benefits. This will become the child’s permanent Summer EBT food benefit card for any future year benefits they are eligible for. 

Visit here to check out more of our stories on food insecurity.

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