For Most Food Stamp Users, Online Shopping Isn’t an Option

Whether they need more yeast for stress baking or the comfort of Kraft macaroni and cheese, Americans sequestered by social distancing are shopping for groceries online. But for many low-income households using food stamps, that can happen only in person.

About 38 million people receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but how they can use them is often limited by technology or government policy. That means they must walk the aisles, increasing the possibility of coronavirus exposure for a group of Americans that includes the poor, older people and those with disabilities.

Ariel Smith, 23, has a connective tissue syndrome that makes it difficult for her to work, and the idea of visiting a store makes her nervous.

She receives about $195 in SNAP benefits each month, but her state does not offer a way to use that money online. Most don’t, although Texas and several other states have recently signed up for a pilot program that would expand that access.

Congress authorized the pilot program six years ago, but it got off the ground only last year — and advocates for low-income Americans say it could have made a bigger difference during the pandemic if the government and other stakeholders had moved faster.

“It should have happened yesterday, and it should be accessible to everyone,” said Patricia Baker, a senior policy analyst at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, an advocacy group for low-income people…. Read more from the New York Times.