The two-year government pilot program is the first of its kind.
For the 38 million-plus shoppers using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the U.S., buying groceries has long been limited to in-person transactions. However, that all changed on Thursday when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the beginning of a two-year pilot program that allows food stamps customers to buy their groceries online and get them delivered, reports the Associated Press—with Walmart, Amazon, and ShopRite as the first participants. It follows a call-to-action from the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, which authorized the USDA to test online purchasing—now, New York state will be the first to try it out. If it’s successful, the program will roll out nationwide, with expansion plans for Alabama, Maryland, Oregon, Iowa, Washington, New Jersey, and Nebraska already on the horizon.
"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," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. "As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too."
Amazon and ShopRite (whose program starts next week) will serve the New York City area, while Walmart’s focus is on upstate New York. FreshDirect, Safeway, Hy-Vee, and Dash’s Market are also set to join the pilot, according to the USDA. Customers can use electronic benefit cards (EBT) to buy eligible items with food stamps, but they’ll still be responsible for covering applicable service and delivery charges. Amazon specifically said it will waive Prime membership fees for SNAP shoppers so that they can order through AmazonFresh and Prime Pantry; however, they’ll still need to meet the respective $50 and $25 minimums for free delivery.
According to CNN, Walmart has separately been testing a service where SNAP customers could order their groceries online at 40 stores, but it was for in-store pickup only. Now, there are “nearly 275 stores that offer grocery pickup in the nine states eligible for the pilot,” Walmart spokeswoman Molly Blakeman told Reuters.
“Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn’t be dictated by how you pay,” Walmart said in a statement. “This pilot program is a great step forward, and we are eager to expand this to customers in other states where we already have a great online grocery.”
In other online ordering news, Walmart recently launched voice-ordering with Google Assistant—likely a direct response to Whole Foods and Amazon. Shoppers can now say “Hey Google, talk to Walmart” and add items to their grocery carts, so long as they have a device with Google Assistant (Google Home Hub, iPhone, Android, etc.). The service also remembers your preferences—so if you always buy a certain brand of decaf coffee, for example, Google will automatically add that to your cart when you ask for coffee, without you having to specify. Learn more about the partnership here.