Action News Jax Investigates: DCF Coronavirus program gives free cash to families who may not need the money

Action News Jax Investigates: Unnecessary benefits mailed

Action News Jax investigates potential taxpayer waste, involving a new coronavirus program meant to help families struggling to put food on the table.

However, Action News Jax’s Ben Becker discovered thousands of families with children who attend public school are receiving special benefit cards worth hundreds of dollars they never asked for or needed.

“I looked at it and wondered why would we get an EBT card,” said Ron Davis, a Jacksonville attorney and father who received what’s known as a “pandemic EBT card” (P-EBT) for his son.

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"When we read it in more detail saw the Coronavirus thing in there and thought it was a scam," added Davis.

But it's not a scam.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows states to issue P-EBT cards to about 2 million children who get free or reduced lunches -  meals that went away when schools closed.

The EBT card benefit is $5.70 per day for up to 55 days, for a maximum total of $313.50.

Becker emailed the Department of Children and Families, which oversees the program funded by federal dollars, to find out why Davis got the money.

The DCF told Becker students who attend schools in low-income areas that offer free breakfast and lunch are automatically eligible. These are known as Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school’s or Provision 2 school’s.

According to the Duval County Public Schools website, there are 126 CEP schools that take part in the program.

The DCF told Becker more than 112,000 students are eligible for the cards in Duval County worth about $35 million dollars. Statewide, it comes out to more than $662 million dollars.

“It bothers me. Seems to be a waste of taxpayer dollars,” says Davis.

Becker asked the DCF what should someone do if they receive the card and don’t need it.

The DCF says “Per federal guidance, if this does occur or if a family does not need this supplemental benefit, the card should be destroyed. The instructions are included with every card mailed.”

“Ron, this is the million-dollar question, what are you going to do with the money?,” asked Becker.

“At this point I have no intention of using it,” said Davis.  

If you get Snap benefits, the P-EBT benefit will automatically be added to your account. For others, the debit card comes in a nondescript envelope, so review your mail closely so you don’t throw your cash in the trash.