Topics: News, Press

Pilot Program for California SNAP (CalFresh) Online Food Purchases to Begin Next Week; UFCW and Western Center on Law & Poverty Applaud Steps and Urge Further Action

Even with this step, many SNAP recipients will be without social-distancing grocery options; and many delivery drivers are paid too little to afford food without SNAP

Sacramento, CA – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council and the Western Center on Law & Poverty applaud California’s Department of Social Services (DSS) to be the first state to achieve federal government approval for an emergency request to expand a pilot program permitting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase grocery and food delivery online. This option will be available for SNAP, known as CalFresh in California, beginning April 28th.

The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing issues around access to food and other basic necessities. While this new option will help some families living in poverty access food while abiding by federal, state and local emergency orders to shelter in place during the pandemic, there are only two approved retailers – Amazon and Walmart. What’s more, both retailers have established a minimum benefit threshold for purchase of $35 and are charging delivery fees, so it will not offer solutions for everyone.

Since last week’s approval for California, other states have also received approval for SNAP recipients to make purchases online: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Pilot programs began last year in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington State.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), even though not all states and only a couple of retailers will be able to participate in the online purchase pilot, they recommend states and retailers not in the pilot utilize other options already available to retailers hoping to serve their customers in ways that support safe social distancing policies, such as “Pay at Pick-up” (also known as “Click and Collect”), where SNAP cardholders can shop online and then pay for their purchase using their EBT card at pick-up. In a statement issued today, USDA says, “Grocery pickup is already an option that these retailers offer beyond SNAP so they are already thinking through how they can provide a safe environment to do so with the growing concerns around social distancing.”

UFCW and Western Center continue to push for expansion of the program beyond Amazon and Walmart and their third-party grocery delivery, and are requesting that other retailers in California’s grocery industry consider “click and collect” options for curbside pick-up and home delivery.

“Allowing CalFresh participants to use their benefit to purchase food online is a positive step toward reducing the unequal access to food and safety during the pandemic,” said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate, Western Center on Law & Poverty. “However, we can’t stop there. We have one of the most inclusive EBT systems in the country and we shouldn’t stop working on this until we have expanded online purchase and click-and-collect options are available to all current recipients through all participating retailers. If we don’t get more vendors participating in the online purchasing and ordering options during the pandemic, the result could be more food deserts in communities that desperately need greater access.”

CalFresh provides monthly benefits to assist low-income households in purchasing the food they need to maintain adequate nutrition. A single person is eligible for CalFresh if they make $2,024 a month, which is less than what a $13 an hour job pays for 40 hours a week – $2,080. As companies rely on essential delivery workers to prevent hunger and the spread of COVID-19, we encourage them to consider appreciation pay, and wages that would prevent workers from having to rely on safety-net programs.

“It will be a shame if this program, intended to expand options for communities in need, has the effect of eliminating good union jobs and directing more dollars into the pockets of CEOs at Walmart and Amazon. These giant corporations pay wages so low that many of their own workers qualify for Cal-Fresh and would face hunger without these benefits,” said Andrea Zinder, president, UFCW Western States Council and UFCW Local 324. “Expanding the pilot program to include companies that pay their employees living wages and promote workers’ rights and preventing participating companies from contracting with third party distributors is necessary to prevent the loss of good paying jobs with benefits. This also ensures CalFresh recipients are not held responsible for spoiled or damaged food because if a food delivery goes bad, they would not be able to have those benefits refunded to them.”

As local, state, and federal governments work quickly to address needs related to the pandemic in real time, we must be vigilant that the solutions proposed now do not cause more damage in the future. Opening the online purchase pilot program to more vendors and supporting them to establish “click and collect” options for curbside pick-up and home delivery will create the kind of competition and opportunity for fair wages necessary for communities to be well in the current economic climate.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council is the regional coordinating body of 11 UFCW local unions representing over 200,000 workers in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. The Council is a part of the 1.2 million member strong UFCW International Union. UFCW members are standing together to improve the lives of workers, families, and communities.

Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians. Western Center attains real-world, policy solutions for clients through litigation, legislative and policy advocacy, and technical assistance and legal support for the state’s legal aid programs. Western Center is California’s oldest and largest legal services support center.


UFCW Western States Council: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, [email protected]

Western Center on Law and Poverty: Jessica Bartholow, 916.400.1948, [email protected]