Online grocery delivery in the works for food stamp recipients
Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Last month, the USDA announced the launch of a two-year online purchasing pilot for food stamp recipients. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants will now be able to buy groceries online in New York state.
The pilot will be monitored to see whether non-SNAP and SNAP recipients are receiving the same shopping options. In this phase, SNAP participants may use their benefits to purchase eligible food items, but not pay for service or delivery charges.
Initial retail partners include Amazon, ShopRite, and Walmart. The first two will serve the New York City area, while Walmart will be catering to upstate New York locations.
Eventually, the program plans to expand to other states: Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey, and Washington. If successful, the program will expand to other regions. Additional retailers include Dash’s Market, Hy-Vee, FreshDirect, Safeway, and Wright’s Market.
SNAP participants, or food stamp recipients as they are more commonly known, often have trouble getting fresh and healthy food from brick-and-mortar stores. 20% of SNAP participants fall under the categories of disabled or elderly, and they deserve a better system to access fresh food.
Many SNAP participants live in "food swamps," places that offer more accessible fast food options than fresh produce. Now they will have healthier options available to them, along with access to high-quality protein and dairy.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, about 13% of New York state’s total population, or more than 2.5 million people, participated in SNAP last year. Nationally, the program helped close to 40 million Americans with more than $65 billion in government funding.
Retail giants like Amazon now have a great shot at breaking into this market, which is more or less dominated by brick-and-mortar stores.
Amazon will offer food stamp recipients free delivery on AmazonFresh purchases of $50 or more and free delivery on Prime Pantry orders for purchases of $35 or more. It also has excellent options for affordable shipping for smaller orders.
What’s more is that SNAP participants won’t need a Prime membership to use their benefits on Amazon. This will not only increase access to food for more remote customers, but it will also help combat the public health crisis by making healthy food affordable and easy to get.
5% of Walmart’s domestic revenue already hails from purchases made using SNAP benefits. The USDA’s pilot program will further expand that reach, and the Arkansas-based retail giant is looking to make 275 grocery pickup stores eligible for the pilot.
Though the pilot has been rolled out recently, plans have been in the works for years. The 2014 Farm Bill laid the foundation of the pilot as it authorized the USDA to evaluate options for online purchasing using SNAP.
The pilot has the potential to be a game-changer and address the issue of economic inequality and limited accessibility that leads to food insecurity. Finally, healthful food will be readily available in low-income communities.
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