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Some Georgia stores to begin taking food stamps for grocery delivery

File photo.
File photo.

Georgians who receive food stamps can soon order groceries online from two of the state's largest sellers now that the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a change in the way the benefits are processed.

The new process in Georgia is still in its testing phase, but barring any technological issues, people will be allowed to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — commonly known as food stamps — to purchase groceries online as soon as next month.

The USDA, which administers the federal food stamp program, began a two-year pilot program to test the new purchasing initiative in New York last August and had expanded it to 17 additional states and Washington, D.C., before the coronavirus pandemic began. Due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the program will be expanded to 38 states including Georgia in coming months.

“Enabling people to purchase foods online will go a long way in helping Americans follow CDC social distancing guidelines and help slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Agriculture Secretary and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

If Georgia’s tests go well, beginning June 1, shoppers who order groceries through Amazon Fresh will be allowed to use their SNAP benefits to pay for their items and have them delivered to their homes. Food stamps will begin being accepted June 2 for groceries purchased from Walmart online. And other retailers can apply with the Food and Nutrition Service division of the USDA to also accept SNAP benefits online.

Georgia Division of Family and Children Services officials said the change is crucial since some Georgians have been asked by Gov. Brian Kemp to stay at home through mid-June to decrease their chances of contracting the novel coronavirus.

“I think this is especially important when you think about the number of older (and high health risk) Americans who are receiving some kind of food assistance such as this,” said DFCS Director Tom Rawlings. “This allows them to remain in their homes and cuts down dramatically on having to go into the stores.”

The federal government has required those using foods stamps to go into stores to use their electronic benefit transfer card to make purchases.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, some stores such as Walmart and Kroger began allowing customers to use food stamps to order their groceries for curbside pickup, but shoppers still had to present their card and PIN on site.

Health officials have discouraged shoppers from using PIN pads while shopping to cut down on handling items that many others have also touched, increasing the risk of spreading disease.

The new purchase guidelines will allow SNAP recipients to enter their information into a website or cell phone application when they order their food and avoid contact with a POS system when picking up groceries curbside or having them delivered. Shoppers still will have to pay any delivery fees.

“Our state is really using technology to make it easier for folks to apply for benefits and to get those benefits online,” Rawlings said. “It’s all part of a larger process to make it so people can get the benefits they need without having to leave their home, provided they have the technology or the phone to be able to do it.”