Last updated on January 9th, 2017 at 10:53 am
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has chosen seven retailers to take part in a pilot designed to enable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase their groceries online. The two-year pilot is slated to begin this summer.
“Online purchasing is a potential lifeline for SNAP participants living in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where access to healthy food choices can be limited,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.”
The retailers and pilot states include:
• Amazon—Maryland, New Jersey and New York
• FreshDirect—New York
• Safeway—Maryland, Oregon and Washington
• ShopRite—Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania
• Hart’s Local Grocers—New York (based in Rochester)
• Dash’s Market—New York (based in Buffalo)
The retailers represent a variety of store types, including national online retailers as well as large grocery chains and smaller, regional networks to appropriately test online SNAP purchasing in different settings, USDA says. Pilots will take place in seven states in both rural and urban areas, marking the next critical step in bringing the online purchasing option to SNAP clients.
While USDA has authorized SNAP online grocery ordering in a few locations, this pilot will test both online ordering and payment. Online payment presents technical and security challenges that will need to be examined and fully addressed before it is offered nationwide. As with the core program, SNAP participants will only be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible items online—not to pay for service or delivery charges. USDA is committed to maintaining the security of SNAP benefits for both the protection of SNAP participant accounts and to prevent and detect trafficking, so SNAP online purchases must have a higher level of security than most other online purchases.
As the pilot proceeds and USDA confirms the system is operating as required, USDA anticipates being able to add additional retailers. Eventually, its goal is for this to be a national option for SNAP participants, once the pilot phase is complete and USDA can incorporate lessons learned into program rules.
USDA says it has taken many steps in the last several years to strengthen SNAP and increase access to healthy foods. Recently, USDA announced a purchase and delivery pilot, which is designed for nonprofits and government entities to improve access to groceries solely for homebound elderly and disabled SNAP participants. USDA also provided funding to incentivize participants in SNAP to purchase more healthy fruits and vegetables through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, increased farmers market participation in SNAP to improve access to fresh and nutritious food, and announced final changes to increase access to healthy food choices for SNAP participants by requiring authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options.
SNAP supplements the monthly food budget of more than 43 million low-income people. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are over age 60 and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings, according to USDA.