CHICAGO (AP) – Thanks to federal money for COVID-19 relief, families of one million children in Illinois will be getting debit cards worth several hundred dollars in the mail this month to help them buy food.
Sophie Milam, senior director of public policy for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said that the debit cards, which are now in the mail, will be a surprise to most people. There is a risk that some people will throw the unmarked envelopes with the debit cards in them away.
There was no application process for the program. The debit cards are being mailed automatically to any school child who is part of Illinois’ free and reduced lunch program.
“Families can use the debit cards at any grocery store or retail store that takes LINK,” Milam said. “Families can choose whatever groceries they want that makes sense for their family.”
As Milam and her colleagues at the Food Depository see it, the pandemic has created a hunger crisis in Illinois. Because of COVID-19, the number of families with children who are food insecure has tripled.
Before the pandemic, 13% of Illinois children lived in homes where there was not enough food. Since COVID-19 hit, food pantries have seen a 44% increase in need, with many new families coming in for food.