April 08, 2020


Expanded pilot program would allow more Older Americans to purchase necessities safely from home

WASHINGTON – Today, House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging and Families (TFAF) Co-Chairs Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Doris Matsui (CA-6), and Conor Lamb (PA-17) and Vice Chairs Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Debbie Dingell (MI-12) and Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) and Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), sent a letter to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for an immediate nationwide expansion of the Online Purchasing Pilot for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

As communities across the country expand social distancing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to purchase food and household products online is essential. For Older Americans who cannot leave their homes, the need is critical. The Online Purchasing Pilot program allows SNAP beneficiaries in designated pilot areas to use their EBT card to purchase groceries and household products from Amazon (without a membership fee), and other online retailers. The pilot is currently running in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York and Oregon.

As this crisis continues to disproportionately impact already-vulnerable populations like Older Americans — and particularly those who are low-income — the Task Force on Aging and Families urges USDA to expand the pilot program nationwide to give America’s seniors and families the tools to stay home and stay healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

Given the unprecedented circumstances facing the people of our nation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to immediately implement nationwide expansion of the Online Purchasing Pilot for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as to include more retailers in the program.

The move toward accommodating online purchases for SNAP benefits has a long history of bipartisan support that began in the 2014 Farm Bill. More recently, the 2018 Farm Bill required a faster path toward scaling the pilot nationwide. The first phase of the pilot, which started in 2019, includes eight states and eight retailers.

One of the first studies to highlight the potential for expanded food security by online SNAP purchases was published late last year by researchers at Yale University and Tufts University. This study found that, in states participating in the Online Purchasing Pilot, 90 percent of people living in food deserts could receive grocery delivery to their homes.

As federal, state, and local governments expand social distancing measures to reduce transmissions of COVID-19, online purchases of food have become increasingly common to reduce public gathering in grocery stores. This is a critical need for many Americans, especially senior citizens who cannot leave their homes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that older adults, 65 and older, are at a higher risk for severe illness for COVID-19; this age group accounts for 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. In this same demographic, we find high rates of hunger across our country as nearly 5.5 million seniors in 2017 reported to be food insecure.

SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, has been our nation’s foremost and most effective anti-hunger program for decades. Recent estimates reveal SNAP recipients are among our nation’s most vulnerable — nearly 20 million are children, about 11 million are people with disabilities, and almost 5 million are low-income seniors.

During this time, it is crucial that we keep SNAP working for those who need it most. Therefore, we again urge you to immediately expand the Online Purchasing Pilot to all states and additional retailers.