USDA Announces SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot

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Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has selected seven retail firms to take part in a pilot program designed to enable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase their groceries online. The two-year pilot is slated to begin this summer and will include the following retailers and locations: Amazon (Maryland, New Jersey, New York), FreshDirect (New York), Safeway (Maryland, Oregon, Washington), ShopRite (Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), Hy-Vee, Inc. (Iowa), Hart’s Local Grocers (New York, based in Rochester), Dash’s Market (New York, based in Buffalo).

These retailers represent various store types, including national online retailers as well as large grocery chains and smaller, regional networks to test online SNAP purchasing in different settings. Pilots will also take place in seven states in both rural and urban areas.

“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,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a press release. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.”

However, according to a report in Crain’s, supermarkets are objecting to the pilot citing a loss in sales that will drive some out of business only to make access to fresh fruits and vegetables ever more difficult despite the program’s goal to improve access. Brad Gerstman spokesman for the New York Association of Grocery Stores is quoted saying USDA’s new program will only accelerate the trend of closing grocery stores across New York City and disadvantage elderly consumers who may not have the access to the internet, nor the tech savvy to successfully utilize the program.

USDA has also launched a pilot in August designed to help shape the guidelines first proposed in 2015 to permit governmental and non-profit food purchasing and delivery services to accept SNAP benefits as payment, in order to increase the access and opportunities for home delivery to elderly and disable SNAP participants. However, the two pilots are entirely separate. SNAP has already allowed online grocery ordering in some locations and this pilot will further test online ordering and payment which present technical and security challenges that need to be examined and addressed before the program can be offered nationwide.