The ability for people who rely on food stamps to have their groceries delivered is more than just a convenience or a luxury. COVID-19 has made it a matter of life and death.
Federal policy has always required that SNAP benefits (“food stamps”) can only be used to purchase groceries when the SNAP recipient’s Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card is physically present at purchase. In 2014, Congress allowed USDA to start a pilot program allowing EBT purchases to be made online. That process took over 5 years before retail giants Walmart and Amazon first rolled out these purchasing options in a few states.
The USDA has been expanding the online SNAP transactions program to additional states in the past few weeks. On May 20, they announced that Pennsylvania was approved to launch online grocery purchasing with SNAP!
Some 38 million Americans and nearly 15% of Pennsylvanians received food stamps in 2019. Those numbers are now increasing as unemployment skyrockets. Nearly half of the SNAP households in PA (more than 43%) include a family member who is an older adult or someone with a disability. Prior to this pandemic, many of these families relied on ride sharing or public transportation options to go grocery shopping. As these options dwindle and become less safe, those who rely on food stamps will, starting in June, be able to safely get groceries by ordering them online.
But SNAP benefits cannot pay for delivery fees, which SNAP households often lack the income to afford. Therefore, government must help make remote shopping possible for food stamp shoppers by offsetting delivery costs.
Sen. Bob Casey has introduced a new bill, S. 3563, to directly reimburse vendors for grocery delivery costs to food stamp shoppers. This, and its companion bill H.R.6445, would also promote child nutrition by reducing hurdles in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Assistance) program so that more families could continue to receive these benefits after their child turns 1.
Congress must take quick action to protect our most vulnerable neighbors. Supporting grocery delivery for SNAP shoppers will also boost the financial well-being of local economies and food producers as well as public health.