Low-income recipients of food assistance, known as SNAP, will soon have a new, convenient option for purchasing groceries. The USDA is launching a two-year pilot program this summer that will allow food stamp users in seven states the option to buy their groceries online, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Online retailers including Amazon, ShopRite, FreshDirect, Hy-Vee, Inc., Hart’s Local Grocers, Dash’s Market, and Safeway are participating in the program, which aims to make access to healthy foods more convenient for communities with limited access to grocery stores. “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 Secretary Tom Vilsack says in a release.
Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Iowa will be the first states to test the program, aiming to work out technical logistics such as challenges with online payments and security. Like the current SNAP program, recipients’ benefits may only be applied to eligible items such as fresh fruits and vegetables; the food stamps may not be used to cover service and delivery charges or general restaurant delivery.
As Mashable notes, the access to the program will also be limited by the participating online stores’ service areas. For example, FreshDirect is only available in two zip codes in the Bronx.
The move is another example of the growing role online retailers are playing in the grocery industry. Although online grocery purchases still make up only a small fraction of overall food purchases, those numbers are on the uptick.
Online delivery services such as Blue Apron have even begun to cut into the bottom lines of some major food companies like Tyson and Campbell’s, inspiring some to launch their own meal kits. Meanwhile, Amazon is on a aiming to upend the traditional grocery format with stores free of checkout lines, and online grocer FreshDirect received a huge infusion of cash — $189 million to be exact — in September to expand beyond the Northeast.