Minnesotans who receive food stamps soon will be able to shop for their groceries online like millions of other Americans who are avoiding stores because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it has approved a waiver request allowing nearly 380,000 Minnesotans who rely on monthly food stamp benefits to buy food online at select retailers as early as next month. Previously, people who received food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), had to use their benefits in person, which increased their risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

“Safe access to healthy food is important for all of us,” said Nikki Farago, assistant commissioner for children and family services at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), which administers food stamp benefits. “This is vital to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic while helping Minnesotans put healthy food on their tables.”

The DHS submitted the waiver request in late April, and must still test the online purchasing system with retailers. The tentative timetable for the service to be available is early June, DHS officials said. The New York Times reported Monday that an internal report to the Trump administration predicts coronavirus cases to nearly double by then, to 200,000 new cases a day and as many as 3,000 daily deaths.

Currently, Walmart and Amazon are the only USDA-approved retailers participating in the program nationally. The state of Minnesota is encouraging other retailers to seek approval from the USDA to offer more options for local grocery online purchases.

The online purchasing option is already available in seven states: Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Ten other states join them in the near future, the USDA said. With these states, more than half of the nation’s households receiving SNAP will have access to online purchasing.

 

Twitter: @chrisserres