Brief

Online grocery shopping comes to SNAP through pilot program

Dive Brief:

  • The USDA has selected seven food retailers to participate in a two-year test enabling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants to buy food online. The test launches this summer.

  • The grocery chains offer delivery services and represent a wide range of store types in seven states – possibly extending into neighboring states via deliveries. Progressive Grocer identified the chosen retailers as Amazon (in Maryland, New Jersey and New York), FreshDirect (New York), Safeway (Maryland, Oregon and Washington), ShopRite (Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania), Hy-Vee (Iowa), Hart's Local Grocers (New York) and Dash's Market (New York).

  • The USDA already allows SNAP online ordering in some locations, but this pilot program will also allow online payments. If “technical and security” issues can be overcome, the USDA said, the pilot may extend across the nation.

Dive Insight:

The ability to both order and pay for food online before having it delivered could literally be a life-saver for older, disabled and very young SNAP participants — 41 million of whom are children. 

Near the end of the first week of 2017, large swaths of the U.S. were hit by severe snow and ice storms. During this weather, “the last mile” to get food into the homes of many SNAP users is their own driveway. While public agencies plow the roads, private driveways need to be shoveled out by private residents, which some SNAP beneficiaries can't do themselves. Without means to move the snow and ice, they could be unable to leave the house for groceries. 

Even though the USDA's pilot online program for SNAP doesn't allow for coverage of delivery charges, those costs could be an affordable price to pay for urgently needed groceries in many instances. 

Some have been critical of the pilot program, claiming it could accelerate the departure of supermarkets from already under-served areas. Others caution that it ignores the plight of people lacking computer access or computer skills, though it is possible a trusted friend or relative could make the orders for these individuals, or they could be done by smartphone. 

Filed Under: Grocery Policy