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For People Using SNAP Benefits, Grocery Delivery Can Help And Hurt

For some, going to the grocery store can require overcoming obstacles such as lack of transportation, money to pay for food, and sometimes childcare.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people have turned to online shopping for groceries, but for low-income people using the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), that might not be an option either.

Some people using SNAP benefits, which can be used to buy most food products, have had trouble using the debit or EBT cards issued by the government for grocery delivery.

Recently the discount food chain ALDI announced they will accept SNAP cards for grocery delivery in Ohio, but some of the other big chains—like Walmart and Amazon—have been accepting SNAP benefits since last year.

When online grocery shopping works well, it can be a great tool for people trying to bring home the most amount of food to their families using SNAP benefits.

Cleveland resident Maritza Mendez said using grocery delivery has helped her check prices online.

“And most of the time, I know if I have coupons, I check (online) if I have to double the coupons,” she said.

Mendez started using grocery delivery when she had COVID-19 and wanted to prevent spreading it.

She continued to use it because she doesn’t have a car, and her daughter is recovering from surgery, so it’s more convenient to order online, Mendez said.

But she has experienced some issues. Mendez uses adobo, a Spanish seasoning, and sometimes the person shopping for her can’t find it at the store.

Once, she used the Amazon site for grocery delivery. It didn't work out well, she said.

“Most of the items are not the ones that you pick, and when they pick it, it’s like over the budget,” Mendez said. “You have to pinch more from your stamps, and it’s like, when you have a family, you don’t have your budget you want for your kids for 30 days.”

Mendez also struggles with grocery delivery because she lives in an apartment.

“When they’re delivering the stuff to you, you have to be sure you’re home,” she said. “When you go downstairs, your food is all over, like right there, most of the time they don’t wait.”

Although Mendez has been able to work through her issues, that’s not the case for many who want to use SNAP benefits to take advantage of delivery services from some chain stores, said Hope Lane from the Cleveland- based research organization Center for Community Solutions.

“It’s great, it’s a big deal, but there are still the same barriers,” she said.

Some of those barriers include having to have a credit or debit card on file with a store, even if you’re exclusively using SNAP benefits, Lane said.

Some families don’t have a bank account or a debit card, so they can’t use the service. Others who do have a debit card may find that the delivery service put a hold on the cash in their bank account, or they may charge a service fee. For people on a budget, that’s a problem.

 “It’s hard. It’s a challenge for low-income Ohioans,” Lane said. “Being able to order groceries online is huge. It’s a really big deal, but we have to keep in mind these challenges that still exist.”

There are other issues that can make online grocery shopping difficult, Lane said. People may not be able to take advantage of contactless delivery at stores if they don’t have a car.

For many, grocery stores are just out of reach, too far for delivery drivers to make the trip.

Luckily for Charlene McMillon, who lives on Cleveland’s west side, delivery services are available. And it makes it easier because there aren’t any grocery stores close enough for her to get to without a car.

“There’s a Family Dollar and a Dollar General on both sides of Bellaire (Road), but it’s long walking distance,” McMillon said.

There are many factors that affect whether a person can eat fresh food or have food in their house at all, said Lane.

“I think this all just really, truly ties into the social determinants of health,” Lane said. “Transportation, public transportation, access to a bank and banking, all of these things tie into simply getting your groceries, and I don’t think a lot of people put all of that together.”

What people eat and how well they eat determines how healthy they are. Grocery shopping is an aspect of health that many people take for granted, Lane said.

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