Will ordering groceries online lead to healthier choices by food stamp recipients?

Wed, 2017-01-18 15:15 -- Compassionate C...

Out-going USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack calls his agency's move to pilot online grocery ordering and payment from Amazon, Safeway and others a "potential lifeline" for SNAP participants who live in urban neighborhoods and rural areas where access to healthy foods can be limited. Food deserts are an unfortunate fact of life in many communities today; if this online pilot is successful it could lead to a lot of low-income families and senior citizens having healthier meals on their tables. – Liz Enbysk

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as food stamps. According to the USDA, SNAP supplements the monthly food budget of more than 43 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10% are over 60.

The two-year pilot to test and fine-tune online grocery ordering and payment for SNAP recipients will be available initially in seven states from seven retailers that were selected by the USDA to participate:

  • Amazon - Maryland, New Jersey, New York
  • FreshDirect - New York
  • Safeway - Maryland, Oregon, Washington
  • ShopRite - Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
  • Hy-Vee, Inc. – Iowa
  • Hart's Local Grocers - New York (based in Rochester)
  • Dash's Market - New York (based in Buffalo)

Emphasizing security
USDA says the pilot will allow them to test the program in different settings and in rural and urban areas. In an announcement the agency said it is committed to maintaining the security of SNAP benefits for both the protection of SNAP participant accounts and to prevent and detect trafficking, so SNAP online purchases must have a higher level of security than most other online purchases.

Once the system seems to be operating as required, additional retailers may be added with the expectation the program would eventually be rolled out nationally.

Poor food choices?
Stories often crop up about people using food stamps for soda, candy and other junk foods. Some states have tried to ban use of food stamps for non-nutritious items.

“I want the kids in our state to have sippy cups full of milk and juice, not Mountain Dew and Pepsi,” State Rep. Mary Bentley said in support of the Healthy Food Improvement Act she introduced in the Arkansas Legislature in December.

But USDA suggests that this online pilot, expected to launch this summer, is one of many steps the agency has taken to improve access to healthier foods for SNAP participants. Among them:

Related topics:
Feeding the hungry: Digital giving options expand (and so does the need)
Why more mayors are putting food on the agenda
IBM takes on Birmingham food deserts


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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