COVID-19 – California likely soon to allow food stamps for online grocery purchases

Feds: California could allow food stamp recipients to shop online during COVID-19 pandemic

Currently, CalFresh requires an in-person purchase at the grocery store, increasing virus exposure risk

Vallejo Times-Herald, By RUTH SCHNEIDER, Eureka Times-Standard, April 8, 2020
CalFresh recipients cannot currently shop online for groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the USDA said that could happen by the end of the month. (The Associated Press file)

California residents who receive CalFresh benefits to help pay for groceries are not able to buy food online. That forces the recipients to buy food in person at grocery stores — something that increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

But through acceptance into a pilot program, California is close to changing that.

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

Six other states, including Washington and Oregon, already have the pilot program up and running that allows for the purchase of groceries from participating retailers including Amazon and Walmart.

Safeway, which has Humboldt County locations, is also authorized to work through the program, but a release from the USDA stated it’s not currently operational.

It’s unclear when the state will make the program operational. The USDA release stated “later this month” without providing a specific date.

The press office for Gov. Gavin Newsom did not respond to a request for comment on the situation on Wednesday.

Limited options

There are limited options for those who are confined to their homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Right now, what’s available is to reach out to friends, families and neighbors,” said Heidi McHugh, the community education and outreach coordinator for Food For People.

Those folks can help individuals purchase groceries.

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, which helps individuals sign up for the benefits and tracks local enrollees, said people can be designated to use an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, also called an EBT card, that holds an individuals benefits.

“Recipients of CalFresh benefits, who are recommended to stay home and refrain from grocery shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak, can contact the call center at 877-410-8809 to designate an alternate cardholder and that person can grocery shop on the cardholder’s behalf,” DHHS spokesperson Meriah Miracle said in an email to the Times-Standard.

Emergency relief

McHugh said some CalFresh recipients will be eligible for boosts in benefits for March and April. She said those will be distributed on April 10 (for March) and May 10 (for April).

But not everyone will receive the boost. People who receive CalFresh benefits receive between $16 and $194 each month. Those who receive less than the full amount will receive the remainder they would receive if they were eligible for the full amount. For example, someone who receives $16 per month would receive an additional $178 but someone who receives $194 each month would not receive any additional funds.

“The emergency allotment is specific to COVID-19 issues,” McHugh said.

Food distribution

Food for People will be distributing food through an emergency drive-through on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the parking lot north of Sears at the Bayshore Mall. For more information, call 707-407-0447.