The USDA announced the launch of a SNAP online purchasing pilot in partnership with Amazon, Walmart, and ShopRite yesterday. For the first time ever, SNAP beneficiaries will be able to use EBT cards for online grocery delivery orders.
This two-year pilot is currently up and running only in parts of New York—in New York City and upstate areas—but the USDA plans to expand the program to Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and the rest of New York state in the coming months. New York City will be serviced by Amazon and ShopRite, while Walmart is providing services in the upstate area.
“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food—by ordering and paying for groceries online,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in the press release. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients. We look forward to monitoring how these pilots increase food access and customer service to those we serve, specifically those who may experience challenges in visiting brick and mortar stores.”
Critics of the program are concerned recipients of SNAP won’t be able to afford service charges and delivery fees for these orders—EBT cards are not allowed to be used for either during this pilot. Some retailers like Walmart, who have relied on SNAP beneficiaries as loyal shoppers for years, have their own similar pilot programs. 40 Walmart locations nationwide currently offer online grocery ordering for those on food stamps, which can be picked up in store—eliminating service charges and delivery fees.
However, the USDA believes this program could be a big win for many of the 38 million people on food stamps—working moms, the disabled, and the elderly in particular. This could also be a great option for those without a car or living in food deserts—if they have reliable internet access.
While the online grocery market currently only accounts for two percent of total grocery spending, sales are expected to quadruple by 2023. As the $63 billion food stamp market has started to shift away from big-box stores and supermarkets with dollar stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, it will be interesting to see how much this pilot affects how this massive demographic shops and eats.