Many people are struggling to afford the food they need during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Across Wisconsin and the nation, many households have lost some or all of their regular income. Others have lost access to usual sources of food, such as school meals and senior meal programs. The information below provides information about public programs and community resources to help meet food needs during this crisis. We will continue to update this page with new and changing information.
Wisconsin 211 connects you with nonprofit and government services in your area. You can use the 211 website to look for services in your area, or you can call 211 (or 877-947-2211) at any time.
FoodShare Wisconsin helps families across Wisconsin to afford the food they need. The program provides eligible households with a debit card (called the QUEST Card) that is automatically loaded each month with funds to buy food. The QUEST Card can be used at most grocery stores, and at some Farmers’ Markets and other locations. It can only be used for food.
Each month, hundreds of thousands of people around the state use FoodShare. Some are people who have a job but need additional resources to afford food; others have lost their job, or are retired or disabled or not able to work. Many people who have not used FoodShare before have started participating since the COVID-19 emergency began.
Eligibility is based on household size and income. You must also be either a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident for at least five years. For information about eligibility, see the DHS web page on income limits.
You can use the ACCESS website to see if you qualify for FoodShare and other programs.
The application process has been streamlined during the COVID-19 emergency. Most families who apply online will not have to complete an interview, as long as they are able to provide the necessary information and documentation.
Feeding Wisconsin has a FoodShare Helpline. They can answer questions about FoodShare and help you to apply. The phone number is 1-877-366-3635, and they are available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. More information is available at the Get-a-Quest-Card website.
FoodShare benefits are based on household size and income. The maximum benefit is $194 for 1 person, $355 for two people, $509 for three people, and $646 for four people. The benefit continues to increase for larger households. Benefit amounts are lower than these maximums when households have other income.
Because of the COVID-19 emergency, all FoodShare recipients received the maximum allowable benefit for their household size for March, April, and May. For some households, this was a larger benefit than usual. The extra benefits were issued as a separate allotment. There is no information yet about whether these extra benefits will be issued in future months.
DHS has made temporary changes to FoodShare so that the program can reach as many people who need it as is possible. Information about the most recent changes can be found at the DHS website. Some of these changes include:
- Work requirements and work registration requirements are suspended for most households due to the COVID-19 emergency; however, work requirements are still in effect for students because those fall under a separate rule.
- Most households do not need to complete an interview to determine eligibility.
- Requirements for certain documentation needed to determine eligibility have been temporarily loosened.
- Required FoodShare renewals due in March, April and May have been postponed.
Wisconsin has received approval to begin allowing use of FoodShare to purchase food online, in certain circumstances. Beginning May 21, FoodShare participants may use their benefits to shop online at Amazon and Walmart. When purchasing food from either of these vendors, you will be able to choose an EBT card payment option and enter card details; you will be asked for a PIN each time you check out.
These are the two grocery retailers that are already set up at the national level to support use of these benefits. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services will support other Wisconsin-based retailers as they work with the U.S.D.A. to become authorized to support online FoodShare purchasing.
In addition, some retailers allow FoodShare participants to order online for pick-up services and to then use their benefits in person. Individual stores can provide information about whether they support this option.
Only eligible food may be purchased with FoodShare benefits; delivery fees and other associated charges may not be paid for with FoodShare.
Many farmer’s markets accept FoodShare benefits either at specific vendors or at the entire market. Check with your local market to see if they participate in the FoodShare EBT Program.
Some FoodShare users can add an authorized buyer to their account. Information about this option, including the necessary forms, is available here.
Yes. Unemployment Insurance benefits, including the temporary extra $600 benefit, are counted as income when determining eligibility and benefit amount for FoodShare.
Replacing School Meals
Pandemic EBT (or P-EBT) is a new, temporary program that provides benefits for children who normally receive free or reduced price meals at school. It covers the value of the meals that would have been provided at school. This program provides funds on an EBT card, and these funds can only be used for food. It is not the same program as FoodShare. However, the benefits are used in the same way, and some families receive their P-EBT benefits on the same card as their FoodShare benefits.
P-EBT benefits are available for March through June, and are paid in two installments. The first installment covers March-April, and the second installment covers May-June. The combined March-April benefit is $176.70 per child; the combined May-June benefit is $148.20 per child. The benefit is available to children who were receiving free or reduced price meals prior to the COVID-19 school closure. P-EBT benefits do not replace any meal programs currently provided by schools and community organizations during the pandemic. This benefit is in addition to the current meal programs provided by schools and community organizations.
P-EBT benefits are not included in ‘Public Charge’ rules and will not have negative impacts on immigration status.
Beginning May 21, you may also use P-EBT benefits to shop online at Amazon and Walmart. When purchasing food from either of these vendors, you will be able to choose an EBT card payment option and enter card details; you will be asked for a PIN each time you check out. Benefits may only be used for eligible food; P-EBT will not cover delivery fees or other associated charges.
For eligible children who are already participating in FoodShare, P-EBT benefits are automatically issued on their household’s existing QUEST Card. No application is needed. The first installment was issued on April 27, and the second installment will be issued sometime in the end of May. These benefits are in addition to FoodShare benefits.
For eligible children not enrolled in FoodShare but enrolled in certain other public benefits, benefits will either get added to an existing QUEST card or will be issued on a new P-EBT card. No application is needed. The March-April benefits were issued on May 10, and May-June benefits will be issued sometime in the end of May. Families who are getting these benefits automatically will be notified, and will be issued a P-EBT card if needed.
Families with children who were receiving free or reduced price meals and who were not issued benefits automatically are able to apply for these benefits, through a streamlined application process. Many families have been notified by their school on how they can apply. You may also contact your school for more information.
More information about P-EBT is available from DHS.
School districts and community organizations around the state have made arrangements to provide meals for kids while schools are closed. These arrangements are different from place to place. Children can continue to get meals through their district and/or other community based organizations, even if they also participate in P-EBT.
To find out about meals for children in your area, check with your school or school district website. In many counties, your county Extension office can provide information about meals for kids. Many sites are listed on the USDA’s Find Meals for Kids website. *This is not an exhaustive list – some sites are not included.
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a nutrition program for pregnant women, infants, women who are breastfeeding, postpartum women, and children younger than age 5. The program provides nutritious foods, infant formula, as well as nutrition education and other support. Income and other eligibility information is available from DHS. To find out more, or to apply for WIC, you can contact your county WIC office.
WIC benefits are not included in ‘Public Charge’ rules and will not have negative impacts on immigration status.
69 WIC local agencies are continuing to serve WIC families, although they are adjusting the way they handle appointments. Most are being conducted remotely over the phone.
Grocery stores are working hard to maintain adequate stocks of WIC eligible foods. WIC is encouraging participants to shop early in the morning to increase their likelihood of finding fully stocked shelves. Wisconsin currently has USDA waivers for the following foods:
- Whole Wheat/Whole Grain Bread. Participants will be allowed to substitute authorized whole wheat/whole grain bread and whole grain options in package sizes up to 24 ounce when 16 ounce packages are unavailable.
- Participants will be allowed to substitute 46 to 64 ounce containers of juice when the prescribed size is not available. Participants must still select 100% fruit or vegetable juice that meets federal standards.
Hundreds of food pantries around the state are providing households with needed food during the COVID-19 emergency. Pantries have adapted their normal procedures so they can distribute food safely. Many are providing pre-packed boxes of food, and many are using curbside or drive-through pickup options. 211-Wisconsin can help connect you with food pantries and other assistance. You can use the website to find information, or you can call 211.