Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is eager to “expand access” to a larger group of shoppers when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) begins its two-year pilot program designed to enable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase their groceries online in 2018.
“We’re really excited to be a part of the test program with the USDA,” said Molly Blakeman, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “We don’t think that our online delivery program should be limited to people based on how they pay. We’re able to expand that access, which is exactly what we want to do.”
The pilot was initially slated to take place this past summer, but it was delayed in order to ensure that the infrastructure needed for online SNAP transactions to operate in a secure manner was properly prepared. No new start date has been announced for the program, but it is expected to launch in 2018 and continue through 2020. The pilot encompasses eight states and nine retailers, each of which contribute a unique subset of territories to the program.
The pilot is the result of the 2014 Farm Bill which mandated that a trial be conducted to “test the feasibility and implications of allowing retail food stores to accept SNAP benefits through online transactions,” according to the FNS (Food and Nutrition Services).
The SNAP benefits cannot be used to cover added cost such as delivery or convenience fees.
SNAP is designed to aid low-income families and individuals with their food shopping and currently serves in excess of 43 million consumers. Nearly half of these are children, according to the organization.
“As the pilot proceeds and USDA confirms the system is operating as required, we anticipate being able to add additional retailers,” said the USDA in a release. “Eventually, our goal is for this to be a national option for SNAP participants, once the pilot phase is complete and USDA can incorporate lessons learned into program rules.”
Wal-Mart is joined by Amazon, Dash’s Market, FreshDirect, Hart’s Local Grocers, Hy-vee Inc., Safeway, ShopRite and Wright’s Markets Inc.
Despite the federal holdup, Arkansas-based Walmart began a similar trial run in five stores this fall for pickup orders only.
Four of the participating stores are in the Boise, Idaho, market and another one is located in Houston. These locations allow shoppers to pay from home after a digital purchase if they use a traditional credit or debit card. If they would like to utilize EBT benefits, they can pay at the store during at the time of pickup.
“We think this is a service that should be available to everyone,” Walmart said on the company’s blog in September. “That’s why we’re introducing an option that allows customers using EBT benefits to use Online Grocery Pickup and pay when they pick up their groceries.”
“We know that our customers are loving online grocery pickup,” said Blakeman. “It saves time,” which customers view as a “new form of currency.”
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