More than 30,000 suddenly unemployed Connecticut residents became SNAP beneficiaries in the months since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. Now they and the more than 350,000 other SNAP recipients statewide can use their benefits online to order groceries from ShopRite, Walmart and Amazon.
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SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP is a federal program that helps people buy food. But while many Americans have used online ordering to get food delivered during the pandemic, those with SNAP benefits in Connecticut couldn’t. Now that’s changed.
Connecticut is one of more than 35 states enrolled in SNAP’s online purchasing pilot program.
“We wanted to have a way for our recipients to be able to use their benefits in a way that would allow them to be on the same footing as any other individual in the state of Connecticut,” said Dan Giacomi, the state’s SNAP program administration manager.
Giacomi says many SNAP recipients spend hours on public transportation trying to get to the grocery store because of food deserts, while others in rural areas might not have public transportation as an option. The program also makes it easier for those with disabilities to get what they need.
“I can’t buy a lot of canned food because I can’t lift it, but if it was delivered to my house, what a luxury, what an absolute luxury,” said Leslie Jacobs, a SNAP recipient.
Jacobs has dealt with chronic back and neck pain since a car accident in 2017. When she grocery shops, she can carry only a few items in each bag.
“Every three things can only be in a bag because I can’t lift heavy things. I mean, having to lift liquid detergent, I couldn’t do that,” Jacobs said.
But some people like Shannon Smith say they still prefer to do their grocery shopping in person. She travels by bus to a market and lives next door to a Price Rite in Hamden.
“I like shopping for myself, it gives me a sense of fulfillment, it gives me my independence,” Smith said. “I like just the whole up and down the aisle thing, putting it back, picking it up, like the whole shopping experience I like.”
And Smith says grocery shopping during the pandemic has helped her feel less alone.
“I’m in the house by myself, so having a chance to get out and be around people is a good thing,” Smith said.
She also thinks online grocery shopping will be more expensive. She’s not wrong -- SNAP funds can’t be used to cover the cost of shipping or delivery, though some retailers like Amazon offer free shipping for orders over a certain amount. But beyond that, Smith thinks the pandemic has caused the cost of food to rise.
“The prices have gone up dramatically. Where I could get like Idaho potatoes in a bag for three … where that was 99 cents, it’s a dollar and some change now,” Smith said. “Because of that, I’m not getting as much as I would normally get, more bang for my buck type thing.”
Giacomi acknowledges that the online program doesn’t solve all the problems when it comes to food insecurity, access and affordability, but he says it does mean more people can access food without risking their health as people continue to contract COVID-19.
“We wanted to make sure that some of our higher-risk population, which are, you know, your elderly populations, your disabled population,” Giacomi said. “Those are the individuals that we were getting the most phone calls about not being able to get out and do the shopping.”
The program launched last week at ShopRites and Walmarts across the state and Whole Foods, which operates through Amazon Fresh.