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By Sustainable Food News, guest contributor
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced the seven food retailers selected to participate in a seven-state pilot to test online grocery purchases by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants.
SNAP supplements the monthly food budgets of nearly 44 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are over 60 and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings. The two-year pilot is slated to begin in both rural and urban areas 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,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The retailers and pilot states include:
- 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, based in Rochester, N.Y – New York
- Dash’s Market, based in Buffalo, N.Y. – New York
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,” the agency said.
As the pilot proceeds and USDA confirms the system is operating as required, it anticipates adding more retailers.
“Eventually, our 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,” the agency said.