This program was a lifeline for low-income families missing school lunches. Now only families in a handful of states are eligible.

It hasn’t been a great month for low-income families in America, with the advance child tax credits payments ending and grocery prices continuing to spike. In the latest bit of bad news for parents struggling to make ends meet, many states have yet to apply for Pandemic-EBT, a program that gives low-income families with kids in virtual school a debit card to help replace the free or reduced-price meals their children would have been getting on campus. At one point more than 18 million children were benefitting from the program, writes The Washington Post. Meanwhile, many families who relied on it throughout the pandemic are now being excluded simply because their children are not attending in-person classes. While more students are taking in-person classes this year, thousands of schools have gone virtual–at least temporarily–during the omicron surge. The problem does not appear to be ideological, but rather bureaucratic. The program comes with unduly cumbersome administrative requirements for tracking and reporting student eligibility, and many schools don’t have the staffing needed to keep up. —Jessica Terrell