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Kroger unable to accept government benefits on pickup, delivery services

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-25 20:06:54-04

DICKSON, Tenn. (WTVF) — As social distancing becomes a more stern warning, some of the largest grocery store chains have their pickup or delivery services available to make shopping easier and safer for families.

Walmart encouraged its customers to take advantage of its online delivery and store pickup options or to use the Walmart Pay feature of the app. Molly Blakeman, a Walmart spokesperson, said there is a “Pay at Pickup” option for customers using EBT benefits when purchasing groceries online at all of its more than 3,100 pickup locations.

However, customers like Charley Holcomb of Dickson said these services may not be an option at stores that provide them for customers who rely on government assistance programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

At least one store, Kroger, said on its website that it’s “unable to accept governments (including WIC and SNAP) as payment” for pickup or delivery, which charges extra fees. It accepts credit or debit cards only.

But the issue may be out of Kroger's control. We also reached out to the Tennessee Department of Human Services, who say this is an issue at the federal level. "Federal guidelines for SNAP do not allow the benefits to be used for online purchases in Tennessee; however during the recent COVID-19 emergency there has been a move to relax restrictions such as these on the federal level. We are working with Federal partners on possible flexibilities within the SNAP program to assist customers and those applying for these services."

Holcomb said she used SNAP in the past and is in a different program now. Her friends who use government assistance programs are concerned and questioned why the limitation exists.

“They feel discriminated against because they feel like they’re not good enough. Everyone should be allowed to use pick up or delivery option simply because of the mandates they’re putting out,” Holcomb said.

SNAP helps low-income families buy food under certain income requirements. They use an electronic benefit transfer card or EBT to purchase the items.

“It’s the same principle, you enter a number and pin and it’s the same concept as if you’re using a debit card,” Holcomb added.

NewsChannel 5 asked Kroger why there’s a specific stipulation. Spokesperson Melissa Eads replied with a statement saying, “We’re currently working through technology constraints to make this possible. Given current circumstances we’re looking at alternatives to speed up implementation.”

More than 37 million Americans, or 1 in 9 people, already have a difficult time placing food on the table, according to a 2018 report by the United States Department of Agriculture.

On the final stretch before reaching the mammoth and historic $2 trillion relief package to help small businesses, families, hospitals and state and local governments amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Democrats pushed to boost funding for SNAP by 15 percent. As of Monday night, the item had been removed from negotiations.