Due to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, buying food with government assistance no longer means having to actually go to a store to use those benefits.

This year, during the pandemic, state social services efforts have made it much easier for people to have access to Food and Nutrition Benefits and now the state is offering those recipients another major option for doing their grocery shopping safely from the comfort of home.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced that participants in North Carolina Food and Nutrition Services– a program that for years was known as a “food stamp” program – will be able to purchase groceries online using their cards at the increasingly popular ALDI stores.

ALDI, which bills itself as a place to get “high quality food at everyday prices,” becomes the fourth retailer operating in North Carolina – along with Walmart, Amazon and Carlie C’s – to be approved for online purchases for benefits recipients.

In May, soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit, North Carolina was one of the first 10 states to implement online purchasing for benefits recipients. According to state social services officials, the online shopping option will remain permanently in place after the COVID-19 pandemic has receded

A December 15 press release states that “This flexibility will allow participants to buy food while promoting social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19” and adds that it “will help families with transportation and mobility barriers.”

While participants are able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items from online retailers, they still won’t be able to use their benefits to pay for delivery charges. The participants will be required to pay for service or delivery charges with another form of payment such as a debit or credit card.

While there are obvious reasons for offering online grocery shopping during the pandemic, state health officials point out that the change brings other benefits as well – such as increasing access to healthy food for people with physical impairments or transportation issues and providing greater options for those who don’t live near a store that sells healthy foods.

NCDHHS is encouraging other stores to seek approval to become authorized online retailers.