For many Americans, going grocery shopping can sometimes feel anywhere between an inconvenience and a trip to hell. For Americans with disabilities and chronic health issues, going grocery shopping can feel like a huge inconvenience and a nearly impossible trip to hell.
Earlier this year, however, the USDA announced it was piloting a new program with seven food retailers to allow SNAP participants to shop for groceries online. This makes it a little easier for disabled folks who can’t be in for the long haul.
How it works? Just visit the website of the store in question (in the state in question, as locations matter) and enter your EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card number. The program is set up to be as simple and secure as using SNAP in physical food retailers.
States involved in the initial pilot on Jan. 7, 2017, included Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania and Iowa.
The stores included AmazonFresh, FreshDirect, Safeway, ShopRite, Hy-Vee Inc., Hart’s Local Grocer’s and Dash’s Market. The program focuses on rural and urban regions, but the East Coast has the monopoly on the stores and states so far, with only Safeway on the West Coast and Hy-Vee in the Midwest.
Some companies, such as FreshDirect, offered online shopping and delivery to EBT customers before the pilot. Before this, Safeway allowed online shopping and delivery only to EBT customers with disabilities.
The program does not cover delivery costs, although some of the stores (such as Hy-Vee Inc., in Iowa) offer free delivery if customers buy more than $100 worth of groceries.
But some of the delivery services can be a bit pricey. AmazonFresh is only accessible through Amazon Prime, with each costing a respective $14.99 and $10.99 a month. Add a $9.99 delivery free for less than $40 worth of groceries, and you’re looking at a steep bill.
“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. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.”
The USDA’s goal is to add more grocers and other test states in the future, should the program prove successful.
Since January 7, the USDA added three more retailers to the pilot list: Thrive Market, Wal-mart Stores Inc. and Wright Markets Inc.
Schwan’s, a national delivery company, offers free delivery for orders over $49.99. Fresh Madison Market operates out of Wisconsin, with a sliding delivery fee scale.
Crisp Mobile Grocery in Chicago used to accept EBT for online shopping and delivery, but no longer does per the terms of its Instacart agreement.
Next year, a second pilot program hopes to work through continuing security and system enhancements to run the program again at the ten stores in Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
The move to online grocery shopping is hardly a new one, with food retailers such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh taking a big bite out of traditional grocery retail profits.
The move to push for online shopping for SNAP participants, however, is due to the 2014 Farm Bill. Interested retailers were asked to volunteer applications for the two-year pilot program, with an assurance that they could drop out at any time. Pennsylvania, active in 2017, is not on 2018’s proposed list.
Nearly 43 million Americans are on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits or food stamps, with nearly half consisting of children and 10 percent over age 60. Many are disabled, with households with low or no income.