The coronavirus outbreak and the accompanying physical distancing orders have sped up the adoption of curbside pickup and home delivery for groceries. But many of the Americans who could use it most are shut out.

In most states, recipients of benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, cannot use those benefits through online portals, meaning they can’t in most instances order groceries online.

That means the recipients, many of them elderly or disabled, and many with pre-existing health conditions, must continue to go to the store and walk the aisles, potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

Even without considering the effects of social distancing, it’s a drag. The lack of access to curbside pickup means SNAP recipients can’t use that method to save precious time. The lack of available delivery means recipients must haul all their groceries by themselves, a difficult task if you have a health problem or use public transportation.

Congress approved a pilot program allowing the use of benefits cards online six years ago, but it only got going last year. Nine states are now involved, and seven more along with Washington, D.C., have signed up. Maine is not one of them.

In the absence of federal action, stores have instituted policies of their own. Walmart at most of its pickup locations lets SNAP recipients order online then swipe their cards at pickup, as does the Kroger chain.

Payments for curbside pickup at Hannaford stores are completed at the store, and the company allows the use of EBT cards for that purpose.

But that’s not available for everyone.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture should be commended for seeking to expand the pilot program and eventually move it to all states; once the pilot program is at full strength, more than half of the country’s recipients will be covered. The program should quickly be expanded to include recipients everywhere.

In 2019, 38 million Americans used SNAP benefits, including 157,000 Mainers, one in every nine residents. Sixty percent of the recipients are from families with children, and 48 percent come from families with an elderly or disabled member. With the outbreak’s impact on the economy, we can expect those numbers to grow.

The average benefit per household of $198 per month is not much, but it is a lifeline to the families who use it – as long as they can use it flexibly to meet their needs.

Families suffering from hunger should have access to food in order to round out their diets and maintain their health. They should be able to get that food in the same manner as everyone else – through their local grocery store.

Allowing SNAP recipients to shop online helps accomplish both those goals.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.