Warner, Kaine urge Virginia inclusion in USDA pilot program

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U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are urging USDA approval of Virginia’s request to participate in the agency’s SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot Program.

This program allows SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase items online with authorized retailers in an effort to follow the social distancing guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak.

“The current public health crisis has resulted in an unprecedented rise in unemployment and a subsequent increase in demand for our nation’s anti-hunger programs, including SNAP. While USDA has moved swiftly to reduce barriers and increase access to this program during the current public health emergency, most SNAP recipients are only able to utilize these benefits in person at grocery stores or other retailers. This requirement places SNAP recipients at higher risk of infection, as they are not able to utilize various online grocery delivery services that are available for consumers,” the senators wrote in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The 2014 Farm Bill required USDA to establish a pilot program to test the feasibility of SNAP beneficiaries utilizing their benefits online with authorized retailers. To date, only a small number of states are authorized to participate in this program and have set up systems to allow SNAP recipients in their respective states to use their benefits with online retailers. In light of the current public health emergency, USDA is working to expand the program to additional states on a case-by-case basis if they meet the requirements to administer the online program.

In their letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, Sens. Warner and Kaine urge the agency to approve the Virginia Department of Social Services request to participate in the pilot program and expand the program nationwide.

“To ensure the health and safety of SNAP beneficiaries in the Commonwealth, we urge USDA to work with the Virginia Department of Social Services to approve Virginia’s request to participate in the Department’s SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot as quickly as possible. We also urge USDA to do everything within its power to expand this program nationwide so SNAP recipients across the country have the option to use online grocery delivery options and reduce their exposure to COVID-19,” they wrote.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Last month, the Senators successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that needlessly forced children to physically accompany their parent or guardian to a school lunch distribution site in order to receive USDA-reimbursable meals.

Additionally, the senators secured Virginia’s USDA Disaster Household Distribution Program designation, which allows food banks to distribute USDA foods directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients.

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