PHOENIX – Yvonne Knight, who has respiratory problems that make her especially vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic, cannot buy food online with her food stamps, despite the fact that every trip to the store is now a dangerous expedition.
Going out to shop terrifies the 38-year-old woman, who suffers from cerebral palsy. She is one of the millions of people who receive help with eating through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal system that offers little flexibility.
“Every time I go out, I put myself and other people at risk,” said Knight, who lives in Erie, Pennsylvania. “Now I’m terrified when people approach me. I don’t want to go shopping.”RELATED
Only SNAP recipients in six states can buy food online, something many Americans do to reduce the frequency with which they leave home, and Pennsylvania is not one of them.
Now, state governments and food security advocates across the country are begging the United States Department of Agriculture to make the system more flexible and accessible, at a time when many people lose their jobs and seek government help.
Requests have even come from conservative states where lawmakers have tried to reduce or limit food aid.
In Arizona, Republican Governor Doug Ducey asked the agency to suspend the personal interview requirement with applicants, allow families to buy hot food, remove the requirements to work for some people, and allow for some changes that would help families cope. with the economic effects of the pandemic.
Ashley St. Thomas, director of public policy for the Arizona Food Bank Network, praised the governor’s request, adding that relaxing the requirement that beneficiaries demonstrate that they work at least a few hours a month is “crucial right now,” especially as millions people are losing their jobs, either as salaried workers or in unregulated or platform-based internet jobs.
Amanda Siebe, 35, of Hillsboro, Oregon, has a medical problem that causes chronic pain and compromises her immune system, so she tries to avoid exits.
But she already has a hard time subsisting on her SNAP benefit – $ 194 a month – under normal circumstances, and now she’d love to have more cash to buy more food and limit trips to the store.
“We need to buy food that not only lasts the whole month, but gives us a little to stock up so we can get on without having to worry about what’s going to happen in the future,” Siebe said. “Especially since most of us can’t leave home very often.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms like fever and cough. But some, especially the elderly or people with previous medical problems, may die or suffer more serious complications such as pneumonia, which implies that those people need to take additional precautions.
That increased need for food aid and calls to make it more flexible come just after a crippled initiative by the President Donald Trump’s government to cut the estimated 700,000 people who receive food stamps. A court blocked the changes, and the government promised to appeal.
For now, and with a good part of the economy on hiatus, the state governments demanded that the number of beneficiaries be expanded and that the bureaucratic procedures to access the program be reduced.
In Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday asked the Department of Agriculture to remove several requirements and urged the federal government to expand a pilot program launched in New York and Washington states to allow people to use their program cards, similar to credit cards, to buy food online. Amazon and Walmart accept online payments with SNAP in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and New York, where ShopRite also accepts them. In Alabama, Wright’s Markets, Inc. accepts these payments online.
In Missouri, the department of social services asked for and obtained exemptions to extend the SNAP concession by six months so that people would not be expelled from the program during the pandemic.
Food security activists recommended that the government go further and empower states to adapt their programs.
That would allow expanding the number of beneficiaries with minimal paperwork, said Ellen Vollinger, legal director of the Food Research and Ation Center.
The program has been vital in natural disasters that have devastated specific cities or regions, and activists say it could be one of the crucial tools to help Americans withstand a pandemic that strikes the entire country at once.
“Profits move quickly into the economy. They are spent,” Vollinger said.