“In the midst of this crisis, over 16 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in a two-week time span, and that number will unfortunately continue to rise,” said Rep. Espaillat. “Under normal circumstances, benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cannot be used to purchase hot food, however, during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, families are facing unprecedented needs and challenges. We are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue hot food waivers, and to extend its approval of waivers to this pandemic national emergency. We must make it easier for vulnerable families and individuals to access food from retailers that already accept electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards and to help those who need it the most during this national emergency.”
Dear Secretary Perdue,
We write to request to allow Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries to purchase hot food items from retailers that already accept electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
Prior to the COVID-19 public health crisis, 37 million Americans relied on SNAP benefits to buy food each month. Unfortunately, in the midst of this crisis, over 16 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in a two-week time span. No doubt, unemployment rates will continue to skyrocket. As grocery stores struggle to keep their shelves stocked, more families will become food insecure, and those who are already food insecure will continue to face significant hurdles in feeding their families. SNAP beneficiaries also need more support when public transportation use is discouraged, and when going outside in densely populated areas is dangerous.
Under normal circumstances, SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase hot food; allowing flexibility through a waiver for the duration of the pandemic, however, would ease the burden families face to provide nutritious foods to their families. Further, for essential employees who qualify for SNAP and are risking their lives, the ability to purchase hot food will ease the burden of having to cook full meals during this stressful time. These waivers have been requested by governors across the country.
Therefore, we strongly urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture to immediately issue hot food waivers for states where a major disaster has been declared in addition to a national emergency. We also call on the Food and Nutrition Service to extend its approval of hot food waivers to this pandemic national emergency. While this may differ from the “Disaster SNAP Guidance” (pg. 31) issued by your agency in July 2014, we encourage you to establish alternate and broader policy during the current public health emergency. Language in the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act (H.R. 6379) emphasized the urgency of allowing SNAP participants to purchase “hot foods” or “hot food products ready for immediate consumption” from SNAP-authorized grocers, and while this language was not included in the CARES Act, we believe that your agency has the authority to implement these waivers without this change in law.
We look forward to your response on allowing EBT retailers to accept SNAP benefits for the purchase of hot food.