Governor Announces Food Stamp Pilot Program for Online Grocery Shopping

Gov. Ralph Northam speaks at a May 22 press conference.

By Stefanie Jackson – Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has authorized Virginia’s participation in a pilot program that will allow recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps, to purchase groceries online for home delivery.

“This continued public health emergency has made access to healthy, affordable food challenging, particularly for Virginians who live in food deserts, have disabilities, or face transportation barriers,” Northam said.

The program will begin Friday, March 29. Participants may purchase groceries online from Walmart or Amazon using their secure personal identification numbers.

SNAP benefits may be used to pay for groceries only and may not be applied to any delivery or service fee.

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State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver announced that as of May 22, Virginia has 34,950 cases of COVID-19, including 813 new cases reported within the last 24 hours.

There were 37 additional COVID-19 deaths reported today, bringing Virginia’s total number of coronavirus deaths to 1,136.

Northam pointed out that the 37 new deaths reported did not necessarily occur within a 24-hour period. “Every death is important … but we’re following the trends.”

“The fact that we have 37 additional deaths … is very concerning to me, and that’s a part of what we’ll follow as we move forward,” he said.

Northam said point prevalence surveys, used to determine how many people have a disease at a specific point in time, are being conducted at 43 long-term care facilities in Virginia.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Levar Stoney, mayor of Richmond, Va., has suggested implementing a statewide mandate for wearing face masks in public.

Northam said he would announce his decision on the matter Tuesday, which will require consideration of both equity (making sure everyone has a mask) and enforcement.

Before COVID-19, Virginia’s unemployment rate was 2.8%, but unemployment data for April has been compiled, and unemployment has jumped to 10.6%, Northam said.

For individuals filing for unemployment insurance benefits, the job search requirement will continue to be waived until the 61 Virginia Workforce Centers re-open, he said.

Northam clarified that Accomack County, Richmond, and Northern Virginia – which received permission to delay Phase One of the state’s plan to re-open – may enter Phase One as the rest of the state enters Phase Two. However, if those localities want to advance to Phase Two sooner, based on the data they have received, he is willing to have that discussion.

The governor was asked how he would respond to the federal government declaring churches as essential.

“In a time like this, when so many people are struggling and making sacrifices, faith is more important than ever. And we want to make sure that individuals are allowed to practice their religion, and that they’re allowed to do it safely,” Northam said.

He restated that in Phase One of his Forward Virginia Plan, churches are allowed to hold indoor worship services using 50% of their capacity. Churches may also continue to hold outdoor, drive-in services.

In Phase One, churches follow the same guidance as retail stores, he noted.

“We’ve made sure that people can continue to practice their faith as we work through this pandemic,” Northam said.

The governor and first lady Pamela Northam will host the Virginia Public Media statewide graduation ceremony, celebrating the Class of 2020, Friday May 29, 5 p.m., on the VPM, Blue Ridge PBS, and WHRO television stations, Facebook, and YouTube.

Angela Hucles Mangano, a University of Virginia graduate and two-time Olympic gold medalist, will deliver the keynote speech.

Any graduate who wishes to participate in the event may submit a photo or video at