As the coronavirus pandemic persists — and Missouri was placed under a stay at home order — grocery stores and pharmacies have remained open as essential businesses. But people are encouraged to order groceries online for pickup or delivery.
However, those who have the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cannot use them for online grocery purchases.
Only a handful of states — Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington — are included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service pilot program allowing people to pay with SNAP EBT online.
Nebraska was just added on April 1, and Missouri is petitioning the federal government to be included as well.
“The Missouri Department of Social Services is currently working on a waiver submission” to be included in the program, Rebecca Woelfel, the department’s communications director, confirmed in an email to The Missouri Times.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick has emerged as a strong advocate for getting Missouri into the program. After hearing from a constituent, Kendrick appealed to DSS and Missouri’s U.S. senators for help.
Kendrick noted the inability to use SNAP benefits for online purchases impacts both at-risk individuals and single parents. Often, single parents who use SNAP benefits will have to bring their children into the store — putting even more people at risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I think they should make the pilot program nationwide at this point,” Kendrick told The Missouri Times. “It’s a major issue. We’re asking people to social distance and stay home. There are numerous grocery stores around the country promoting curbside pickup or delivery to try to minimize exposure for their employees — which obviously grocery stores workers are on the frontlines right now and need all the protection they can get.”
“This restriction for using SNAP benefits for online grocery store purchases is putting more people at risk,” Kendrick said.
All of the states included in the pilot program already are allowing online SNAP payments for Amazon and Walmart purchases. In some states, other grocery stores will accept online SNAP payments as well.
Under the program, only eligible food can be bought using SNAP benefits. Delivery fees and other related charges are not covered by SNAP benefits, the USDA said.
More than 750,000 Missourians had SNAP benefits per month in 2017, according to data from the USDA. The Missouri Budget Project estimates the number of people requiring food assistance during the coronavirus pandemic will at least equal — if not surpass — the quarter-million increase during the Great Recession.
Missouri saw more than 91,000 initial unemployment claims last week; more than 76,800 of those claims were related to the ongoing health crisis. The previous week saw 104,230 claims with more than 89,000 of those related to COVID-19.
“Missourians are being asked to stay home to protect their own health and safety, and others in their communities. Making sure they can still get the things they need during this emergency while doing their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus is just common sense,” U.S. Senator Roy Blunt told The Missouri Times. “I will continue working with the Missouri Department of Social Services to ensure they have the resources and flexibility they need to help families respond to the challenges they’re facing.”
Instacart, a same-day grocery delivery and pick-up service operating in Missouri, said Friday its order volume has increased by more than 300 percent year-over-year in North America during the coronavirus crisis. In just a week, it added more than 150,000 active shoppers.
Missouri has been under a stay at home order since April 6, but grocery stores have remained open. Many have dedicated at least an hour each morning for elderly, pregnant, and at-risk individuals to shop. Stores have put out social distancing remainders, erected plexiglass at checkout counters, and encouraged patrons to wear masks.
Grocery workers, too, have requested a special declaration from the governor to ensure access to priority testing and safety equipment. Gov. Mike Parson has, thus far, declined to do so.
More than 3,700 Missourians have tested positive for coronavirus as of Friday afternoon, and 96 people have died.
This story has been updated.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.