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USDA pilot opens online grocery shopping for customers on public assistance

Friday 19 April 2019 | 02:25 PM CET

The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) has launched a pilot program that will open up online grocery shopping to those on public assistance.

During a two-year pilot program, those receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits — often referred to as “food stamps” — will be able to shop for groceries from online retailers, including Walmart, Amazon and, soon, ShopRite and others. The pilot is live in New York state at launch, with availability that varies by retailer.

Amazon’s program will encompass the grocery and household selections available on both AmazonFresh and Prime Pantry, without the requirement of a membership fee. This program will operate only in the New York City area, as will ShopRite, when it joins the pilot next week.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s pilot will cover grocery pickup and delivery in upstate New York locations. The USDA says other retailers are expected to join the pilot in the months ahead. Eventually, the program will also expand to other areas in New York and beyond, including Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

Plans for the program have been in the works for years. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized the USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot for online purchasing using SNAP, before rolling out support nationwide. During this pilot, the goal is to test that SNAP benefits are processed safely and securely, and to better understand the challenges involving online acceptance of SNAP.

This is also the first time that SNAP participants will be able to order grocery delivery online — something that the USDA believes should no longer be considered a luxury.

The pilot program will involve the use of electronic benefit (EBT) cards issued by New York to allow for the online purchasing. Walmart and Amazon are live today, with ShopRite and others joining in the weeks ahead.

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