Editorial: Safe shopping for all of us

Editorial: Safe shopping for all of us

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These days, more people are turning to the internet to shop for groceries. If they aren’t delivered to our door, they can be brought to our cars and put in the trunk.

It’s not just a convenience, but in our present pandemic many people see it as a necessity.

Unfortunately, not everybody has access to this option. People who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, generally have to show up in person to buy groceries. They can't do what wealthier people do and limit their exposure to COVID-19 while engaging in the essential activity of buying groceries.

There are exceptions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, began a pilot program last year with a handful of states (Iowa happens to be one of them) so that SNAP recipients can shop for groceries online. However, the options are limited. In Iowa, Walmart and Amazon are the only retailers in the program, according to USDA. Illinois isn’t even in the program, although the state is working on a plan to make it possible for SNAP recipients to shop online, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune last week.

The USDA announced a few days ago Arizona and California have been approved for the program, and that there is greater interest in expanding this effort. "We are expanding new flexibilities and innovative programs to make sure Americans across this country have safe and nutritious food during this national emergency," USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

In Iowa, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services, which administers the SNAP program, told us last week it is "exploring additional opportunities to expand this program to include other retailers." A Hy-Vee spokesperson told us it, too, is working on a solution. "We are currently looking at an option that will allow customers to place an online order for pick up and then allow us to take and process their card for payment when they pick up their order at our stores," Tina Potthoff said.

It is our hope this effort is successful. This is a question of equity. The SNAP program helps people with basic needs, and as the nation's unemployment rate is skyrocketing, that is coming to mean more of us every day. We see no reason that people who have lost their job, or who are poor or disabled, should have to engage in riskier behavior than the rest of us just to put food on the table.


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