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Food stamp participants will be able to select and pay for their groceries online during a new pilot in New York.

In an approach that has never been tried before, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants will be able to select and pay for their groceries online in a two-year New York state pilot. Under the pilot program, participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items. Benefits cannot be used for service and delivery fees. 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a news release that lessons learned from the pilot are expected to inform future efforts to expand online SNAP purchases.

“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food — by ordering and paying for groceries online,” Perdue said in the release. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.”

One nutrition policy expert said results from the pilot will be closely watched, particularly if studies are available to look at SNAP participants’ purchase practices before and after the pilot.

“I would love to know if the market basket item changes — if so, how, and whether Walmart/Amazon will be doing some target marketing online aimed at SNAP participants — and what does that look like,” said Tracy Fox, president of Food Nutrition & Policy Consultants LLC. “I hope that are some guardrails — seems like a great opportunity to test out how marketing of healthy items online could influence their purchases.”

Mollie Van Lieu, senior director of nutrition policy for the United Fresh Produce Association said the pilot should provide valuable data on how food stamp benefits will be utilized for online purchases.

“As the general population is using online grocery shopping, it makes sense to pilot it,” she said. How retailers will incorporate fresh produce into their offerings will be an important feature of the pilot, she said.

The pilot will allow online purchasing only by SNAP households with electronic benefit transfer cards issued by New York, according to the release. Online retailers will be limited to delivery in the pilot areas in New York only. The USDA said the pilot is scheduled to expand to other areas of New York, plus Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. 

Amazon and Walmart will participate in the initial New York pilot launch in mid-April, with ShopRite to join later in the month. Additional retailers will be added as the pilot expands, according to the release. Retailers participating in the project must comply with the basic stocking requirements of the SNAP program, according to the release, including offering fruits and vegetables.

The release said ShopRite and Amazon are providing service to the New York City area and Walmart is providing online service in upstate New York. 

The release said the 2014 Farm Bill authorized USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot for online purchasing prior to national implementation. 


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