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Food Stamp Recipients Will Soon Be Able to Shop for Groceries Online

Amazon and FreshDirect are participating in the pilot program, launching this summer

Amazon Expands Grocery Delivery Service To Los Angeles Area Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

Low-income recipients of food assistance, known as SNAP, will soon have a new, convenient option for purchasing groceries. The USDA is launching a two-year pilot program this summer that will allow food stamp users in seven states the option to buy their groceries online, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Online retailers including Amazon, ShopRite, FreshDirect, Hy-Vee, Inc., Hart’s Local Grocers, Dash’s Market, and Safeway are participating in the program, which aims to make access to healthy foods more convenient for communities with limited access to grocery stores. “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," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says in a release.

Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Iowa will be the first states to test the program, aiming to work out technical logistics such as challenges with online payments and security. Like the current SNAP program, recipients’ benefits may only be applied to eligible items such as fresh fruits and vegetables; the food stamps may not be used to cover service and delivery charges or general restaurant delivery.

The move is another example of the growing role online retailers are playing in the grocery industry. Although online grocery purchases still make up only a small fraction of overall food purchases, those numbers are on the uptick.

Online delivery services such as Blue Apron have even begun to cut into the bottom lines of some major food companies like Tyson and Campbell’s, inspiring some to launch their own meal kits. Meanwhile, Amazon is on a aiming to upend the traditional grocery format with stores free of checkout lines, and online grocer FreshDirect received a huge infusion of cash — $189 million to be exact — in September to expand beyond the Northeast.

Correction: A previous version that mistakenly stated that FreshDirect’s online SNAP program would only be available in two zip codes. The online program will be available to all FreshDirect customers in New York State.

USDA Makes Way for Food stamp Recipients to Buy Groceries Online [Baltimore Sun]
USDA Announces Retailer Volunteers for SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot [USDA]
Amazon Wants to Open Convenience-Style Grocery Stores [E]
All Delivery Coverage [E]

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