Texans can now use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, to purchase their groceries online through Amazon or Walmart. Local philanthropists and leaders believe the move will help low-income individuals avoid public spaces during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

At the end of April officials from the Texas Health and Human Services (HSS) Commission announced it received federal approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow Texans to purchase groceries online using SNAP benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials from the HHS said they planned to launch the program by May 18.

The pilot program launched statewide Wednesday, expanding the number of states participating in the pilot program. Texas is the 14th state to join the pilot program, which launched in New York in April 2019 with Walmart and Amazon.

“By allowing SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online throughout the COVID-19 response, we are removing barriers to healthy and nutritious food for many families in Texas,” said Gov. Greg Abbott in an HHS statement

SNAP benefits are applied to SNAP recipients’ Lone Star Cards, which can be used just like a credit card when checking out groceries online from Walmart or Amazon.

As soon as the HHS learned the Food and Nutrition Service was open to other states such as Texas joining the pilot program, the agency requested to join, HHS press officer Elliott Sprehe told the Rivard Report Monday. 

According to data from the HHS, more than 1.6 million families and individuals received SNAP food benefits in Texas at the end of April – 127,997 of which were in Bexar County. That’s up from 1.4 million Texas recipients at the end of March with 113,660 of those residing in Bexar County.

Those numbers will likely be even higher in May since it can take 30 days for someone to start receiving benefits, said President and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank Eric Cooper. It’s likely many other people applied in March and April when COVID-19 was hitting Texas hardest, and are just now able to use SNAP, he said. 

While Cooper commended the HHS for joining the pilot program, he said it would have benefited low-income Texans if it had been launched locally sooner. Many experts have noted those in lower economic strata are more likely to catch COVID-19, as they work for essential businesses and can’t easily afford delivery services or other safety measures.  

Still, Cooper said the pandemic likely fast-tracked approving additional states for the program.

“The need was already there, but the pandemic amplified the need,” Cooper said. 

Accepting SNAP benefits for grocery delivery services is a huge step toward access to food for all, Cooper said. 

Cooper added that while he’s excited to see the pilot program launch with Walmart and Amazon, he hopes H-E-B will also join in accepting SNAP benefits for delivery services. 

“H-E-B is such a Texas tradition that I know families can’t wait to have that ability to use their SNAP benefits for homebound deliveries from H-E-B,” Cooper said.

A spokeswoman from Amazon said the program will help millions of Americans practice social distancing. “Customers on government assistance tend to be part of an underserved audience,” she said.

Cooper said the San Antonio Food Bank is happy to help any struggling San Antonians learn more about SNAP benefits and fill out a SNAP benefits application form, which can be done by going to the food bank’s website or calling 210-431-8326.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.