Online SNAP Program Could Increase Food Accessibility In Region

In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo, Walmart associate Alicia Carter fulfills online grocery orders at a Walmart Supercenter in Houston. Amazon and Walmart on Thursday, April 18, 2019, kicked off a two-year pilot established by the government to allow low-income shoppers on government food assistance in New York to shop and pay for their groceries online. Now, many other states, including those in Appalachia are following suit. Photo: AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File

This article was originally published by Ohio Valley ReSource. 

Kentucky and West Virginia have recently been added to a federal pilot program to allow food stamp recipients to purchase groceries online, and Ohio Valley anti-hunger advocates say it’s a good move to improve food accessibility amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The pilot program lets those receiving food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to make grocery purchases online. The program began in New York in April 2019, but many states including Kentucky and West Virginia have just recently joined the program to let SNAP recipients buy food with less face-to-face interaction.

Jackie Hoppe is the director of the EBT Banking Services in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, which coordinates efforts to make sure money is loaded onto Electronic Benefit Transfer cards SNAP recipients use to buy food.

Hoppe said the state submitted a request to join the pilot program on April 16, with the request being approved the next day.

“We decided to do this because we  felt like it was another option, more opportunity to purchase food without having any kind of face-to-face contact.” Hoppe said.

The state hopes to have the program operational by mid-May. SNAP recipients can currently only purchase groceries from two authorized retailers, Walmart and Amazon. Hoppe said she hopes to eventually expand that to other grocery stores that offer online purchasing.

While the program does cover grocery costs, it does not cover delivery costs. Hoppe said depending on a SNAP recipient’s needs, local and county resources could help facilitate food deliveries if necessary. Several Democratic U.S. Senators earlier this month called on Walmart and Amazon to waive minimum order requirements and delivery fees for SNAP recipients.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services is already allowing SNAP recipients to use benefits to purchase groceries online and pick them up without leaving cars, for retailers that offer that service. Kroger is also letting SNAP recipients in northern Kentucky use benefits for online purchase and pick up.

Feeding Kentucky Executive Director Tamara Sandberg said the move is a welcome one for anti-hunger advocates, who she says had been pushing for this program even before the pandemic. This is despite her opposition to some initiatives the USDA is currently advocating for that could restrict SNAP access for millions across the country.

“It’s clear that people who need help because they lost their jobs because of the pandemic, they shouldn’t have unsafe options while they’re accessing their groceries, just like nobody should have to,” Sandberg said.

She said while internet and broadband access may be a concern for some in the Ohio Valley in taking advantage of this program, she’s convinced the program will be a net positive for most Kentuckians using SNAP.