MADISON - Wisconsin has failed to send food assistance to tens of thousands of poor children who are supposed to be getting extra help because they have been learning at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under a federal program created last spring, the families of students who qualify for subsidized meals in Wisconsin schools are supposed to receive $6.82 to cover food for every day their children are not in school buildings and are instead learning virtually.
That amounts to about $1,250 for the school year for students who are attending school entirely virtually.
But tens of thousands of students haven't gotten their benefits because the state Department of Public Instruction didn't collect the addresses of all students. It also has not determined whether nearly 500 schools are holding classes virtually — even though the state promised to do so months ago.
The state doesn't have addresses for about 78,500 students who may be eligible for the program. It's unclear how many of them qualify for benefits because it will depend on whether they have been attending school virtually.
Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee, said she was frustrated state officials hadn't done more in recent months to make sure they got the aid to as many families as quickly as possible.
"Why did we wake up one day and realize we didn't have addresses?" she asked.
Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk would not answer a question about why the needed information was not collected sooner during a Wednesday interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said health officials are working with the Department of Public Instruction to address the issue.
"Our administration continues working with and supporting the DPI to get the information necessary and provide assistance to folks who need it," Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said by email.
The state last week made about $46 million in food benefits available to the families of about 158,000 students, according to the state Department of Health Services.