Obama Admin. Opens The Internet To Food Stamp Purchases

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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The federal government is taking food stamp purchases to the internet, launching a two-year pilot program to experiment with allowing food stamp users to buy their groceries online.

Thursday the Obama Administration announced that it is looking for retailer volunteers to participate in the nationwide test program.

“Online purchasing shows great promise to improve access to healthy food for [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] participants living in neighborhoods and rural or tribal areas without grocery stores,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, said in a statement.

“Online purchasing will also help those who are unable to access a grocery store due to a disability or lack of transportation,” he added.

The 2014 farm bill sanctioned the test program. Based on the plans the Department of Agriculture (USDA) — which administers SNAP — laid out in its announcement Thursday, up to five retailers in three states will be selected to participate as test subjects.

The USDA says it plans to launch the pilot program next summer, once EBT is outfitted for online purchases.

The Obama Administration has overseen a dramatic expansion in the number of Americans on food stamps. Participation in SNAP has grown by more than 17.5 million people since President Barack Obama took office, from an average of 28.2 million participants in 2008 to nearly 45.8 million participants in 2015.

Average participation peaked in 2013 when 47.6 million Americans were receiving monthly food stamp benefits.

In addition to heralding the increased accessibility of opening the internet to SNAP, the USDA stressed that it is putting in controls to prevent fraud. The agency further noted, that as with normal retail purchases, online SNAP sales will only be allowed for food. SNAP will not cover delivery charges.

“Ensuring the security of SNAP’s taxpayer-funded benefits is paramount as we look toward expanding access through the online marketplace,” Vilsack said.

“We will continue to work closely with our state and EBT processing partners on this pilot so that we can bring this option to SNAP households in an efficient and secure manner.”