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USDA pilot to allow Americans to buy groceries online with food stamps

By Elizabeth Crawford

10-Jan-2017

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

The US Department of Agriculture’s recent selection of a diverse group of national and independent retailers to sell online groceries to Americans using food stamps not only potentially expands the retailers’ consumer base, but it could be a “lifeline” for shoppers stranded in food deserts, according to stakeholders. 

Beginning this summer, seven retailers will be able to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – colloquially known as food stamps – in select states through online transactions. Participants include Amazon, Fresh Direct, Safeway, ShopRite, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers and Dash’s Market, according to USDA.

Using SNAP benefits to shop online for groceries previously was denied for several logistical reasons – some of which USDA hopes to address in the two-year pilot program in which these retailers will participate.

“This pilot will test both online ordering and payment,” the latter of which “presents technical and security challenges that will need to be examined and fully addressed before it is offered nationwide,” USDA says in a Jan. 5 release.

“USDA is committed to maintaining the security of SNAP benefits for both the protection of SNAP participant accounts and to prevent and detect trafficking,” it adds. As such, “SNAP online purchases must have a higher level of security than most other online purchases.”

As these issues are addressed successfully through the pilot program, the department says it hopes to expand the option of online sales to more SNAP beneficiaries and retailers nationwide.

A win-win for shoppers and stores

The pilot and optimistic future expansion of the service will open a potentially new consumer-base to many retailers, including those of the 43 million low-income shoppers who rely on SNAP and who live in food deserts or are physically unable to go to a grocery store regularly, stakeholders say.

Many of these consumers currently rely on corner stores with limited selection for their groceries – a reality that contributes to food insecurity and could play a role in diet related chronic diseases, they note.

“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 Sec. Tom Vilsack said in a release.

It also is “an important tool to help address food access issues” for “SNAP consumers who aren’t able to physically get to the store,” Greg Ferrara, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for the National Grocers Association, told FoodNavigator-USA in an email.

“Being able to serve SNAP clients through a seamless e-commerce solution is a step in the right direction,” he added.  

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