- The mayor of Seattle has announced plans to offer grocery vouchers worth $800 each to more than 6,000 families in the city, according to reports. The vouchers can be used at Safeway stores.
- The voucher program, which will total about $5 million in benefits, is intended to help families amid the coronavirus outbreak who use city-supported childcare and food assistance programs.
- Voucher recipients will need to sign up for a free Safeway account. Funds can be used for food and household goods but not tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets or fuel.
Seattle is one of the cities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. With state-mandated school closures in effect, the city is stepping up to support families who depend on public resources in other ways.
Safeway, which operates 18 stores in the Seattle area, is the only grocery store mentioned in the city’s announcement, and there is no indication if other stores will participate. Safeway has already teamed up with Seattle on its Fresh Bucks program, which allows SNAP recipients to stretch their benefits further when buying fresh fruits and vegetables.
The retailer is hiring thousands of employees in Washington state to keep up with customer demand during the coronavirus outbreak. It is also considering a seniors-only shopping hour in the region.
Seattle is the first city to announce a grocery voucher program, but other cities could soon follow suit. The San Francisco Bay Area has mandated a shelter-in-place policy, which will severely limit people’s ability to work and will likely drive more need among low-income families. New York City is providing food and childcare to some of its most vulnerable families, and vouchers may be a useful tool in supporting them as well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also announced a partnership to ensure students in rural areas will still receive meals amid the outbreak while schools are closed. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has expressed support for an $850 billion economic stimulus package that could send cash payments to Americans.
Food security will remain a major priority among cities and states in the wake of the pandemic as Americans face layoffs or reduced hours. A federal judge has blocked a new Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rule set to go into effect April 1, which would have implemented stricter work requirements for people receiving SNAP benefits and kicked about 700,000 people off their benefits. The judge’s ruling came in response to states fighting the new rule, but the coronavirus also influenced the decision.