Illinois SNAP recipients forced to put health at risk grocery shopping during COVID-19 pandemic

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Many Illinois residents who rely on the federal food stamp program are saying they have to put their lives at risk to get groceries, despite their fears of COVID-19.

In-person grocery shopping can be especially dangerous for those who have underlying health conditions.

"It will affect people like myself, possibly even fatally," said Chicago resident Marjorie. "I am afraid for myself and I am afraid for many people like me."

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There are about 1.8 million people enrolled in SNAP benefits in Illinois, and some are calling for changes to the program's current setup.

Many would prefer to do their shopping online and have their groceries delivered to their door.

"I cough a lot too and so people are asking me, 'Do you really need to come in here? You are coughing.' People are getting afraid and I'm afraid," said Midlothian resident Robert DeYoung.

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As part of the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot Program, retailers in a handful of states allow shoppers to use their benefits to pay online for their groceries and delivery. But Illinois is not a part of the program.

On Capitol Hill, a group of lawmakers sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, pushing for a nationwide expansion of the program and to include more retailers.

"We are in an emergency situation and nutrition is so incredibly important and you can understand where many people are reluctant to the grocery store," said Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Illinois officials said they're working with the federal government on a plan for online shopping for SNAP recipients, but it's unclear how long implementation will take.

In the meantime, shoppers like DeYoung will have to do what they can to stay safe.

"I have been going to the store. Just run in there really quickly and grab a pack of hamburger and hurry up and get out of there," DeYoung said. "I am afraid to stay in there longer than five minutes."

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