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USDA invests in expansion of SNAP online grocery shopping

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A new program will help smaller retailers overcome technical hurdles or a lack of resources so they can meet SNAP online shopping requirements.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking applications for a $5 million competitive grant to help expand the number of retailers that offer recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits online grocery shopping.

Through the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, the SNAP EBT Modernization Technical Assistance Center grant will fund an organization to provide "extensive support" to retailers with the technology and systems necessary to enable SNAP e-commerce, "so that SNAP participants can access a larger diversity of retailers while shopping for groceries online," the USDA said. The grant is funded by the American Rescue Plan stimulus legislation, enacted last year.

"Online grocery shopping is a vital resource that improves access and convenience for all, including low-income families," Stacy Dean, USDA deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement. "We are excited about this grant's potential to provide new and existing retailers with tools to redeem SNAP benefits in ways that improve customer service for SNAP participants, especially those that face barriers in traveling to a physical store."

The USDA noted that the initial grocery retailers providing SNAP online purchases typically were large chains with established e-commerce services that could be used as a foundation. Many retailers, especially smaller operators, face technical hurdles or a lack of resources to deploy e-commerce sites or update existing sites to meet SNAP online shopping requirements.

With the grant, the USDA said it aims to enable the technical support to help smaller, independent grocery stores offer online purchasing for SNAP participants. The department also wants to expand the base of stores offering online grocery shopping to give SNAP recipients more choice, better serve rural communities and meet cultural food preferences.

All applications for the grant must be submitted by Sept. 6, and the recipients will be announced in the fall. The USDA added that the grant is part of efforts to modernize SNAP and ensure participants have access to the same shopping experience as non-SNAP grocery customers.

To that end, the department said it's developing a pilot to allow SNAP consumers to use their smartphones to buy groceries at the checkout counter and will soon seek states to participate in the program. The goal is to enable SNAP participants to input their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card into a mobile device and make SNAP purchases at the point-of-sale without needing the EBT card.

Under the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, launched by the USDA's FNS in April 2019, 49 states (except Alaska) and the District of Columbia now allow SNAP beneficiaries to shop and pay for groceries online. Amazon, Walmart and Aldi are the only grocery retailers enabling SNAP online grocery shopping on a national scale. A number of chains, as well as Amazon, also accept SNAP EBT payments for online grocery orders, including through Instacart.

In May 2022, just over 3 million SNAP households shopped online—a substantial increase from March 2020, when about 35,000 SNAP households shopped online, USDA reported. The user increase reflects the rapid expansion of the pilot program, as about 130 retailers, representing thousands of stores, were added in the past two years, the department said.

"SNAP online purchasing is particularly important to the communities we serve because of continued fear of contracting COVID-19 in a grocery store, the risk of exposure to other transmissible diseases, accessibility issues both in store and with transportation, and pre-existing burdens on family caregivers," said Cyrus Huncharek, senior public policy analyst at the National Disability Rights Network. "We appreciate USDA's thoughtfulness and stewardship of this crucial technical assistance."

supermarket news logoThis piece originally appeared on Supermarket News, a New Hope Network sister website. Visit the site for more grocery trends and insights.

 

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