Thousands of Utah families are being urged to seek pandemic-related food aid — before it expires

(AP file photo) Cars line up for food at the Utah Food Bank's mobile food pantry at the Maverik Center Friday, April 24, 2020, in West Valley City, Utah. Officials are urging eligible Utah families to apply for a pandemic-related nutritional assistance program, known as Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, before it expires at the end of this month.

Utah families whose kids have received on free or discounted school meals could get an extra $308 to help with grocery bills under a pandemic-related program that expires Monday.

The one-time payment is available to students in kindergarten through 12 grade who were getting those meals on or before March 16, but also to other families whose children attend schools that qualify to offer free or reduced-price federal meal programs to all students.

Families who haven’t received the benefit can learn more at jobs.utah.gov/PEBT.

Those interested must apply by midnight Monday, with payments expected sometime in September.

Nearly 77,000 households in Utah qualify for the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer, or P-EBT, but only about a third of them have applied so far, according to state officials and anti-hunger groups.

Utah was one of 17 states that didn’t initially join program in May because officials said it was too complicated, but they later agreed to participate.

“While modest, these benefits will be able to fill budget gaps for tens of thousands of families,” Alex Cragun, a food-security advocate for Utahns Against Hunger, said in a statement.

The program was created in early March by Congress and, by some estimates, could bring an additional $35 million to Utah families in food assistance.

“This could be a great start to the school year for these families to have some extra food security,” added Nate McDonald, a spokesman for the state Department of Workforce Services, which oversees the program.

Children living in households that were drawing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP benefits as of mid-March have already received the $308 benefit automatically, officials said.