TECHNOLOGY

New demographic can buy groceries online from Amazon, Walmart with payment pilot

BY Dan Berthiaume

More customers in New York State now have online access to buying groceries from Amazon and Walmart.

Amazon and Walmart have kicked off a pilot with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that allows consumers who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits — typically referred to as food stamps — to purchase groceries online for home delivery. It’s a change for the USDA, as SNAP participants have always been required to pay for their purchases at the time and place of sale. Amazon’s pilot includes sections of New York City, while Walmart is testing the service in areas of upstate New York.

Through the pilot, SNAP participants will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items, but will not be able to use SNAP benefits to pay for service or delivery charges. SNAP recipients in pilot areas will have the ability to shop the grocery and household selection on AmazonFresh and Prime Pantry without requiring a membership fee, and with free shipping for orders of a minimum cost.

ShopRite is expected to join the pilot in New York State early next week. Additional retailers are slated to participate in the pilot in coming months. The system is developed to allow online purchasing only by SNAP households with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards issued by New York for this start of the online pilot project. Online retailers will be limited to delivery in the pilot areas in New York only.

The pilot will eventually expand to other areas of New York as well as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. The ultimate goal of the pilot is to pave the way for a national rollout once the USDA identifies the best path to large-scale implementation.

“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food – by ordering and paying for groceries online,” said Sonny Perdue, U.S. secretary of agriculture. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients. We look forward to monitoring how these pilots increase food access and customer service to those we serve, specifically those who may experience challenges in visiting brick-and-mortar stores.”

The 2014 Farm Bill authorized USDA to conduct and evaluate a pilot for online purchasing prior to national implementation. The pilot phase is intended to ensure online transactions are processed safely and securely. USDA anticipates all eligible and interested retailers who can meet the requirements to process online SNAP transactions will eventually be able to take part, though the timeline is dependent on the progress of the pilot and any regulations which may need to be issued.

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