by Brandon Jarvis
Low-income residents are at the forefront of this pandemic on multiple levels. They are being asked to continue to work at their minimum wage (or close to it) jobs to help keep the country fed and supplied.
These low-income jobs often do not provide any type of health insurance for their employees. And if they do, it is often a sorry excuse for healthcare that still requires the person in need to pay out-of-pocket several hundred dollars for a simple doctor visit and medicine.
On top of that, recipients of Virginia’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps are required to go inside of a store in order to purchase food. These are the same people who are still working each day to make sure that the rest of the world can still function as they work from home and order their groceries online.
In addition, SNAP benefits can only be used in retail grocery stores, excluding recipients from using the benefits for takeout food from restaurants. SNAP recipients are also excluded from using grocery delivery options.
With unemployment applications across Virginia reaching astronomical new levels, the expected numbers of residents to apply for these benefits is expected to increase exponentially. Some states have already started to see SNAP applications in a week that come close to entire yearly totals. For instance, Washington State – the first state in the country to really be hit hard by Covid-19 – has seen an 80% increase in applications for SNAP assistance.
According to Virginia’s SNAP website, in order to qualify for this benefit program, you must be a resident of the state of Virginia and fall into one of two groups: (1) those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $2,001, or (2) those with a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) under $3,001 who share their household with a person or persons age 60 and over, or with a person with a disability (a child, your spouse, a parent, or yourself).
With the economy in freefall and thousands of workers being laid off due to the spread of Covid-19, the government should take every possible step moving forward to help mitigate community spread. This includes increasing access to food for the people in Virginia (and entire country) that still have to work each day to make sure that our society does not fall into a complete collapse.
The Commonwealth of Virginia can ask the USDA to allow some relief from this rule, just as California has done recently. “Having the option to purchase online just like everybody else is something our clients have been asking for for a long time,” said Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “The crisis elevates that request. A lot of our folks really need the food delivered.”
Currently, only six states in the country allow SNAP recipients to shop online for groceries. Those states are New York, Washington, Alabama, Iowa, Oregon and Nebraska.
Brandon Hardin, director of the Food Assistance Division for Alabama’s department of human resources said in an interview with Politico that “We feel like it’s a great option to help ensure social distancing measures, help folks that qualify for our program have different options in grocery store delivery methods. It’s a great tool considering the current environment right now.”
If we really want the economy and country to survive this pandemic, we have to look at helping every person take the steps needed to stay safe and distant from others. Taking actions to decrease the number of people in a grocery store, even incrementally, to allow social distancing to really work. We need to make sure that our neighbors are able to obtain food in the safest way possible.
You can check if you are eligible to receive SNAP benefits in Virginia here.