This distinction makes the people that stock your stores eligible for free childcare while schools are shut.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated July 13, 2020
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Andre Kudyusov/Getty Images

Though the coronavirus has led to business closures across the country, some places are certain (hopefully!) to stay open: things like hospitals, police stations, and—of course—grocery stores. Where else can you go to panic buy oat milk? That said, unlike a policeman, the guy restocking toilet paper at Wegmans doesn’t have some fancy badge alerting the world to how important he is. But maybe he should… The COVID-19 outbreak is causing some states to officially classify grocery store employees as emergency workers.

In Minnesota, “food distribution workers”—which encompasses everything from in-store stockers to distribution center IT personal—were listed as “Essential Tier 2 Workers” this week alongside other jobs like utilities and waste management. And in Vermont, though Governor Phil Scott did not list grocery employees as “essential persons” in an announcement made on Tuesday, by Wednesday, Michael Schirling—the state’s public safety commissioner—said that the list was in the midst of being updated and that everyone involved in the grocery industry would be added. “Grocery store workers, folk who are distributing food, and people in the supply chain that supply that food are essential people,” Schirling clarified during a press conference.

Schools are closed in both states, making it difficult for grocery employees used to working day shifts while their kids are at school to do their job. But to deal with the coronavirus crisis, these schools are also being instructed to provide care for emergency and essential workers. So these classifications become essential to receive free childcare.

In Minnesota, the MN Grocers Association applauded the decision on Twitter, writing, “This allows frontline workers childcare as they serve and feed Minnesotans. Thank you @GovTimWalz for supporting our industry during this challenging time!”

At the same time, however, some commenters wondered if the measure went far enough, suggesting that grocery store employees deserve hazard pay as well. “Now get them hazard pay,” user Cathy Crea responded. “My son is exposed to hundreds of people a day for $10.80 an hour.” As the situation develops, it will be interesting to see if hazard pay is eventually added—and if more states continue to follow Minnesota and Vermont’s lead.