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Food stamp users call on USDA to allow online ordering with SNAP benefits

A trip to the store for some seniors and disabled SNAP recipients is life-threatening, says one Prince George's council member.

WASHINGTON — Big grocery retailers like Giant Food say they continue to ramp up online delivery services to handle the crush of orders from shoppers trying to limit their risk by avoiding stores.

But some vulnerable people who receive food stamps, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), said an exclusion that prohibits online ordering under the program puts them at risk.

RELATED: Giant Food updates social distancing rules: One-way aisle traffic, cap on customers in stores

"You're telling us to stay home but we need food, we need to eat!" 64-year-old Rufus Watson said. 

Watson lives in Northeast D.C. and has battled health issues while caring for his 84-year-old mother. The family is dependent on SNAP, but Watson said a trip to a grocery exposes him to serious risk.

According to the Center for Budget Policy, Maryland, Virginia and D.C. have a total of 1.4 million people getting SNAP benefits.

  • 11% are seniors
  • 25% are disabled

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the USDA launched a pilot program to allow online ordering and delivery using SNAP benefits.

The program is now approved in eight states, with retailers like Amazon and Walmart participating, according to an announcement from USDA this month.

But neither Maryland, Virginia nor D.C. are part of the pilot program.

Prince George's County Councilmember Mel Franklin said the USDA should remove all barriers to using SNAP for online ordering and deliver immediately.

"They have preexisting conditions, compromised immune systems," Franklin said. "By not allowing that flexibility to SNAP we're risking their lives." 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday that the District is acting to set up a hotline system by next week that SNAP recipients and others can call for help.

"This is for residents who are medically quarantined or have no other way to acquire these items," Bowser said.

The hotline number has not yet been announced.

RELATED: DC farmers markets no longer essential business, need waiver to operate

RELATED: Safeway updates social distancing rules: one-way aisle traffic, in-store customer cap and limited hours

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