The U.S. Department of Agriculture has named seven grocery retailers selected to take part in a pilot program designed to enable participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as the the food stamp program—to purchase their groceries online.
The two-year test is slated to begin in the summer. Participating grocers will operate in seven states, encompassing rural and urban areas, according to the USDA, which announced the participants on Thursday. Companies selected, and the states where they will accept SNAP payment are:
- Amazon.com Inc., which is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, in Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
- FreshDirect LLC (No. 73) in New York.
- Safeway Inc. (No. 147) in Maryland, Oregon and Washington.
- ShopRite in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
- Hy-Vee Inc. in Iowa.
- Hart’s Local Grocers in New York.
- Dash’s Market in New York.
The grocery firms selected represent a variety of store types, including national online retailers, large grocery chains and smaller, regional networks to test online SNAP purchasing in different settings.
“We’re now able to serve a segment of the population who we currently can’t get to and can’t get to us,” said Joe Dash, owner of Dash’s Market, in a statement Friday announcing his company’s selection to the pilot program. “Whether they’re low-income families, mobility-impaired or without transportation, we’re now able to improve healthy food access to those community members who need it most. It’s an honor and a privilege to be among seven supermarkets in the country selected for this program,” he said.
The USDA in the fall announced it was seeking retailer volunteers for a two-year, nationwide pilot that would allow some recipients of SNAP to use their benefits online.
In October, Jessica Shahin, associate administrator for SNAP, said the idea of allowing recipients to use their benefits online is rooted in the language of the Food Stamp Act of 1964, which established the program that later became SNAP. The 1964 law mandated that the program be “operated through normal channels of trade.”
“Online shopping has become more of a normal channel of trade,” Shahin says, so it makes sense for SNAP, which is administered by the USDA under the department’s Food and Nutrition Service, to move toward e-commerce.
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 be able to use their benefits only to purchase eligible items online, not to pay for service or delivery charges.
SNAP provides assistance to more than 43 million low-income individuals, according to the USDA. Of those, of which nearly half are children, 10% are over 60. Eligibility for SNAP benefits depends on several factors and varies by state. The current average monthly benefit payment is $125.27 per person and $254.97 per household.