COVID-19: Finding Food and Nutrition Programs and Shopping Safely

Benefits.gov is dedicated to providing the most up-to-date information to help citizens access resources from our Partner agencies throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has created more flexibility within their programs to best serve citizens in need.

With school closures, can I receive food for my children?

As a result of the pandemic, many schools opted to close for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. This decision is especially hard for students who rely on school lunches for their nutrition.

The FNS has provided the Child Nutrition COVID-19 Meal Times Nationwide Waiver allowing for the serving of meals outside of the standard meal times for the following child nutrition programs: National School Lunch and Breakfast Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program. This waiver is to ensure children are still being fed while abiding by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation to social distance. These waivers are effective immediately, and remain in effect until the expiration of the federally declared public health emergency.

To apply, please check the USDA FNS website to see all COVID-19 waivers that apply to your state. For information regarding your communities’ schedule to provide access to food, please visit your local school’s website.

What other food and nutrition services are available for my family?

Benefits.gov has several other programs you and your family may be interested in to satisfy your nutritional needs. Several of these programs have recently received additional funding in light of the coronavirus pandemic to better serve citizens in need.

The Special Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for:

  • Low-income pregnant women.
  • Breastfeeding women.
  • Non-breastfeeding postpartum women.
  • Infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Services provided by WIC:

  • Breastfeeding education and support.
  • Supplemental nutritious foods (cereal, milk, cheese, eggs, juice, beans, peanut butter and infant formula) at no cost.
  • Nutrition education and counseling.
  • Money-saving system that can be used to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, baby foods, and other foods the program does not provide.
  • Screening referrals to other health, welfare, and social services.
  • Vouchers to buy WIC-approved fruits and vegetables from authorized farmers' market.

Read more about the WIC program and how it can help you and your family, in our article, “Everything You Need to Know about WIC”. 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest federal nutrition assistance program, helping low-income people buy nutritious food to stay in good health. SNAP provides benefits to eligible individuals and families via an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. This card can be used like a debit card to purchase eligible food in authorized retail food stores. 

Many people may be eligible to receive SNAP benefits, including single adults, families, seniors, and working people. Eligibility is primarily determined through household income and expenses. You may be eligible for SNAP benefits if you are: 

  • Unemployed;
  • Working part time or for low wages;
  • Receiving welfare or other public assistance payments;
  • A non-citizen that meets other qualifications;
  • Elderly or disabled and are low-income; or
  • Homeless.

Visit SNAP’s Application and Local Office Locator's page to learn how to apply in your state. To learn more about SNAP benefits, read our informational article on “What to Know About Food Stamp Benefits”.

How do I keep myself safe while shopping for groceries?

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has presented challenges for people across the United States. Benefits.gov recognizes the difficulties that people are facing and is continuously working to help direct citizens towards available resources throughout the pandemic. While grocery shopping remains a necessity, there are tips for how to help protect yourself and others while in public.

The CDC recommends that people wear cloth, non-medical face coverings in public to help contain the spread of coronavirus. The CDC acknowledges that it is especially difficult to practice social distancing while grocery shopping or at the pharmacy. For people in need of masks, the CDC is offering a Sew and no Sew Tutorial on face coverings.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s article on Shopping for Food during the COVID-19 Pandemic – Information for Consumers provides a list of things to keep in mind to stay safe. Food safety practices are also highlighted to help prevent foodborne illness. Review the CDC guidelines on how to prevent getting sick for more tips.

To learn more about available assistance for unemployment, healthcare, business, and resources for families in need, check out our article: Finding the Right Help During the COVID-19 (coronavirus) Outbreak. Benefits.gov encourages you to take the Benefit Finder questionnaire to find additional government benefits that you may be eligible for and learn how to apply.

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