April 07, 2020
Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents on SNAP can't use their benefits to buy groceries online during the coronavirus pandemic, even while a small group of other states are allowing recipients to do so.
SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly provided residents with food stamps that were redeemed at stores. Now, the federal program gives assistance by adding money to EBT (electronic benefit transfer) access cards.
The monthly stipends are not available for online use except for SNAP recipients in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington, New York, and Alabama. Those states are participating a federal pilot program that allow recipients to use the assistance they receive from the government to buy groceries online from certain stores, the AP reported Monday.
New Jersey was selected to be a participant in the pilot program, but the state is not offering online ordering yet, according to Politico.
So while many American are having groceries delivered to avoid trips to crowded stores, most SNAP recipients do not have this option, potentially putting them at more at risk for contracting the coronavirus.
SNAP recipients are people in low income households, as well as homeless, elderly, or unemployed people who have applied for the program in order to receive assistance with buying food. Others who receive benefits include people with disabilities and chronic illness, which put them at a higher risk of complications if they were to contract the coronavirus.
Program benefits are paid monthly and increase depending on the number of people residing in each household, beginning at $194 per month for one resident.
Since SNAP recipients only receive payments in monthly installments, stocking up on groceries in large trips, which is being recommended, is more difficult to do with limited funds. Additional without the option of online grocery shopping, SNAP recipients have to enter stores to get food, even if they know they have coronavirus. Doing so puts them and other shoppers at risk of getting the disease.
In light of the global pandemic, New York and Washington were the first to launch a program allowing residents to buy food online. National retailers Amazon and Walmart; regional supermarket chain ShopRite; and Wright’s Markets in Alabama, are allowing SNAP benefits to be used to make purchases from their online stores.
Governors across the United States are realizing the challenge that the inability to shop online causes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a call for the program's restrictions to be lifted.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 26, calling for easing of program requirements in light of the public health crisis and asked for Pennsylvania to be added to the pilot program.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy recently added $70 million to the NJ SNAP budget on March 27, so that NJ SNAP recipients could receive extra funds during the public health crisis, but it is unclear when that state could join the pilot program.
There were about 940,000 Pennsylvania households enrolled in SNAP in 2016. Two out of five of these households had children living in the home. The same year, there were around 430,000 New Jersey households enrolled in SNAP.