USDA Expanding Online Grocery Assistance Programs
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expanding the ability of consumers to use grocery assistance programs for online ordering.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is working to expand capacity in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot — having grown the program exponentially over the past few months. Now the agency is also investing in the future of online ordering in its Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
“Online ordering is – and will continue to be – an important tool for increasing food access in communities across America,” said Brandon Lipps, deputy under secretary of USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service (FNS). “USDA is working quickly to provide more SNAP participants with the opportunity to shop for food in the same way many Americans do – online. And now we have set our sights on bringing similar innovation to WIC, continuing our commitment to best serve those who rely on our programs.”
SNAP ONLINE EXPANSION
USDA is working to bring new smaller, independent grocery stores into the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot. Nearly a dozen retailers across several states are currently going through the approval and testing process with FNS and aim to implement online purchasing in the coming months. These include:
Piggly Wiggly, Alabama
Supermercados El Guero, Illinois
New Pioneer Food Co-Op, Iowa
The Cameron Market, Missouri
Sliced Bread Market, Missouri
Sweet Springs Market, Missouri
Brookshire’s Food and Pharmacy, Texas
Super 1 Foods, Texas
Woods Supermarket, Missouri
Skogen’s Festival Foods, Wisconsin
Superlo Foods, Tennessee
St. Marys Galaxy, West Virginia
FRESH by Brookshire’s, Texas
Spring Markets, Texas
In addition, Carlie C’s grocery store in North Carolina recently launched online purchasing with SNAP benefits, joining the five other retailers – listed on the SNAP online purchasing website – already participating.
FNS is also expanding the capacity of SNAP online purchasing by working to bring on another provider of secure PIN entry, which is necessary to protect both SNAP customers and the overall integrity of the program. The additional capacity will allow more retailers to participate in the program and, in turn, give SNAP customers more shopping options.
Over the past few months, USDA has rapidly expanded SNAP online purchasing to 46 states and Washington, D.C. – home to more than 97% of SNAP participants. In September 2020, more 1 million SNAP households shopped online.
Expansion of the pilot means that more SNAP households can now shop for groceries in the same way that many non-SNAP households do – online. This helps protect SNAP participants – including the elderly and disabled – from unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.
WIC ONLINE DEBUT
For the first time ever, FNS is investing in new ways to move toward allowing WIC participants to use their benefits to shop for groceries online. FNS awarded the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition, based in Omaha, Nebraska, $2.5 million to develop and test a safe and secure model for online ordering in WIC.
The Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition will use the three-year, competitive grant to:
- Develop a plan for implementing online ordering (both with in-person and online transactions) in WIC, while protecting the integrity of the program;
- Create the resources necessary for WIC stakeholders to ensure safe and secure implementation;
- Test and implement online ordering in up to five states via sub-grants to WIC State agencies, to be selected at a later date; and
- Evaluate and report on the results to inform future expansion.
The new USDA efforts found support from the Arlington, Virginia-based National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents the independent grocery industry.
“We were pleased to see such a sizeable representation of independent grocers on this list, given the essential role these retailers have in their communities and the longstanding public-private partnership that has helped to strengthen the SNAP food delivery system,” said NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara. “Consumer demand for online services during the COVID-19 pandemic has increased tremendously, and while many independent grocers have launched innovative solutions to meet this demand and better serve their communities, it is critical that independent grocers have the ability to offer eligible food products and process SNAP payments online.”