Purchase Groceries With Food Stamps Online Starting As Early As This Summer

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

People on food stamps will be able purchase groceries online as soon as this summer in some states, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday.

USDA selected Amazon, Safeway and five other companies with online delivery capabilities to participate in a two-year pilot program, allowing people to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase food online.

“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,” Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture, said. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.”

Nationwide enrollment in the food stamps program peaked at 47 million people in 2013, after President Barack Obama allowed states to waive work requirements for the program in qualified counties while the economy recovered. There are still more than 44 million people using food stamps, however, according to Department of Agriculture data.

“Amazon is excited to participate in the USDA SNAP online purchasing pilot,” the e-commerce powerhouse told CNBC in a statement. “We are committed to making food accessible through online grocery shopping, offering all customers the lowest prices possible.”

The 2014 Farm Bill included a requirement that USDA test online delivery of food stamps. The pilot program was delayed over concerns that online retailers didn’t have proper technology to accommodate the PIN-driven Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards which replaced the physical food stamps in 2004. (RELATED: Democrats: Letting People Use Food Stamps Online Will Help Avoid ‘Health Crisis’)

Notably absent from the list of participants in the pilot program is Thrive Market, which has publicly lobbied USDA to allow online food stamps purchases. The boutique food retailer sells non-perishable organic food items and specializes in items for vegan, gluten-free and paleo diets.

“Given that we offer exclusively non-perishable items, we knew there was a chance we wouldn’t get into the initial pilot but felt that our campaign to help get SNAP online was still important,” Gunnar Lovelace, co-founder and co-CEO of Thrive Market told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement.

“We remain excited for what this pilot program means for SNAP recipients who will now have access to healthy food for their families,” Lovelace said.

Thrive Market’s celebrity-packed ad campaigns, featuring Kristen Bell, Shailene Woodley, Jordana Brewster and Rosario Dawson, attracted some national attention to online food stamps purchases over the summer.

Lovelace also testified before the House Committee on Agriculture in November, along with Eric French, director of grocery at Amazon. (RELATED: Congress Mulls Allowing Online Food Stamp Purchases)

Online food stamps purchases will only be available in a seven states, representing both urban and rural environments, with New York having the most options.

Here is a full list of the companies selected for the pilot program, and the states where each will operate.

Amazon – Maryland, New Jersey, New York

FreshDirect – New York

Safeway – Maryland, Oregon, Washington,

ShopRite – Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

Hy-Vee, Inc. – Iowa

Hart’s Local Grocers – New York (based in Rochester)

Dash’s Market – New York (based in Buffalo)

 

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