In recent months, we’ve offered our share of criticisms of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But today, we’re here to offer some words of praise.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Kansas’ request to allow SNAP recipients to make their purchases online. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was once known as food stamps, and it’s a critical support. The benefit can only be used to purchase food, and the amount is usually modest. But as families across our state face uncertain futures, it’s a vital lifeline.
Kansas is now one of 45 states in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot program. There are two online retailers that accept the benefits — Amazon and Walmart — although a few other states on the list include more options.
The need is real. Back in June, when Kansas’ participation was announced, the USDA sketched the situation this way: "Kansas’ SNAP participation is more than 185,000 individuals, more than 87,000 households, and totals $265 million annually in federal benefits." Those are a lot of mouths to feed, and a lot of food purchased.
With COVID-19 a persistent threat in our communities, online grocery purchasing just makes sense. While it may be a matter of avoiding crowds for some, for others it may simply be more convenient during a trying time. Regardless of the reason, the flexibility is much appreciated.
We can imagine more being done, however.
The choice of retailers is limited. While Amazon and Walmart no doubt offer a wide range of food, they are gigantic corporations not based in our state. Having SNAP online purchasing as an option for a wider range of stores would be appreciated.
Another limitation, according to the USDA, is that SNAP benefits can’t cover delivery fees: "Only eligible food may be purchased with SNAP benefits; delivery fees and other associated charges may not be paid for with SNAP benefits." This seems nonsensical if you go to the trouble of allowing online purchases. Delivery should be part of the deal. What’s more, SNAP recipients may not have reliable transportation of their own.
Regardless, the move is a positive one. The USDA should be commended for its flexibility. The U.S. Congress is up next, as demand for food during this global recession will likely continue for some time. The work isn’t done.