The USDA has announced that online shopping will soon be available to recipients of food stamps, also known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The two-year pilot is set to begin this summer and will be available in seven states, in both urban and rural areas.
"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 said in a release. "We're looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP."
The pilot program will take place in Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Retailers set to participate in the program include Amazon, FreshDirect, Safeway, ShopRite, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers, and Dash’s Market in New York. These retailers were selected by the USDA to “represent a variety of store types, including national online retailers as well as large grocery chains and smaller, regional networks to appropriately test online SNAP purchasing in different settings."
"Amazon is excited to participate in the USDA SNAP online purchasing pilot," the company said in a statement. "We are committed to making food accessible through online grocery shopping, offering all customers the lowest prices possible."
Organic online grocery platform Thrive Market, while not selected for the pilot program, has been actively pushing for food stamps to be usable online. In June, founders Gunnar Lovelace and Nick Green launched an online petition to this end after having approached the USDA two years prior to argue in favor of expanding SNAP online.
More than 44 million Americans participated in the SNAP program last year, with an average benefit of just over $125.50 per month.
The expansion of the federal food stamp program to online platforms could help with the immense food desert problem in the United States. An estimated 23 million Americans live in "low-access communities," which the USDA defines as a community within which at least 500 people and/or at least 33 percent of the population lives more than one mile from a supermarket (or more than ten miles in rural areas).