In a borough known for its food deserts, many in the Bronx are struggling to find sustenance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 13, Councilman Andrew Cohen, chair of the Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing Committee, introduced a resolution calling on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot program and increase the number of online retailers serving SNAP recipients.
In 2016, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service launched a pilot program allowing online purchasing by SNAP households with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards. New York is part of the program allowing EBT recipients to receive grocery delivery through Amazon, ShopRite and Walmart. However, Cohen is calling on the USDA to expand participation to more online retailers to ensure vulnerable communities can safely access healthy food during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
“Those relying on SNAP benefits were in great need and vulnerable even before this crisis,” Cohen said. “It’s fundamentally unfair that families who already struggle to put food on the table are left out of critical grocery delivery services because of their ability to pay. SNAP recipients should have the same shopping options and be able to order groceries online the same way anyone else can – regardless of how they pay for it.”
In New York City, more than 19 percent of the population relies on SNAP benefits. For vulnerable , food-insecure communities, senior citizens, people with disabilities, mobility-impaired individuals and those who lack consistent access to transportation or live in food deserts, affordability is only part of the issue when it comes to accessing healthy food.
During the current crisis, when people are being asked to stay home as much as possible, grocery delivery services are a lifeline for seniors and vulnerable citizens who are susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, allowing them to purchase groceries online so they can minimize their exposure.
SNAP recipients are now at an additional disadvantage because so few grocery delivery platforms accept their SNAP benefits as the small list of approved providers limits users’ shopping choice.
Additionally, Amazon, Walmart and Shoprite services are limited in New York and do not serve many neighborhoods in the city. Meanwhile, Instacart, the country’s largest grocery delivery platform, is not part of SNAP.
“The 1.7 million New Yorkers who rely on SNAP to meet basic food needs should not have only three national retailers to choose from to purchase groceries online,” said Liz Accles, executive director, Community Food Advocates. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made online grocery shopping and home delivery an urgent issue for many New Yorkers.”