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Online grocery shopping will soon be a reality for a lot more families. Amazon, FreshDirect and other online grocers will now accept food stamps in a pilot program done in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The two-year program for families participating in SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, will start this summer. Families in parts of Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington will be eligible for different vendors.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that 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. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.
The company has recently been experimenting with grocery shopping in a major way. The tech giant’s plan for grocery stores that would not employ cashiers and that would require a smartphone for entry brought up concerns about excluding low-income customers and contributing to inequality.
Online grocery services from the grocers Safeway, ShopRite, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers and Dash’s Market will also be included in the USDA’s program. The USDA is trying to determine whether local grocers or national services like Amazon will work best for families using SNAP, the agency said in a press release.
Customers will only be able to use food stamps to pay for eligible items and they don’t extend to service or delivery fees for online ordering. The pilot program is also intended to figure out whether to allow online payment, or just online ordering with in-person payment. For some vendors, the pilot program is pretty limited. FreshDirect’s service, for example, will only be available in two zip codes in the Bronx.
The government plans to add additional retailers and eventually offer online ordering for SNAP participants nationwide.