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The Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020 has been introduced in the Senate by Illinois Democrats Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, and a companion bill is currently pending in the House.

NGA backs bill to widen SNAP online grocery participation

Expanding SNAP Options Act would lower hurdles for independent grocers

The National Grocers Association (NGA) has endorsed the Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020, which would make it easier for independent grocers to participate in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot.

Introduced by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) and Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.), the bill aims to enable SNAP online grocery purchasing at more stores by reducing obstacles for smaller retailers. The lawmakers noted that online SNAP transactions currently are limited to a few U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved retailers because of technical and financial barriers, and in many states the only options are Walmart and Amazon.

What’s more, even though some retailers allow SNAP for in-person grocery pickup, options are limited because grocers must have certain point-of-sale technology, they said. As a result, SNAP benefits recipients have fewer safe food options, and independent retailers, small farmers and other food providers from the economic benefit of SNAP payments.

“NGA is pleased to support the Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020. This legislation will be instrumental in helping grocers process online SNAP payments, allowing them to expand their e-commerce offerings to their SNAP customer base, and benefit low-income households, the elderly and disabled Americans,” NGA President and CEO Greg Ferrara said in a statement.

Under the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, launched in 2019, recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can shop and pay for groceries online from authorized retailers using their electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. The online purchasing program, managed by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), is now live in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Four other states — Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah — have been approved to implement the service but haven’t yet gone live.

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"As the food retail industry experiences a shift towards online transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical for all independents to have an opportunity to offer SNAP online," NGA's Greg Ferrara said.

Amazon and Walmart are the authorized SNAP online retailers working with all states. Wakefern Food Corp.’s ShopRite banner is working with Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, while the retail grocery cooperative’s The Fresh Grocer banner is working with New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Wright’s Market is working with Alabama.

In Illinois, where 2 million people receive SNAP benefits, only Amazon and Walmart have been authorized to handle SNAP online grocery transactions. “Unfortunately, and in the middle of a public health crisis, many Illinois SNAP recipients are shut out of being able to access online shopping options at many supermarkets and grocery stores,” according to Duckworth. “I’m proud to introduce legislation with Senator Durbin that will provide grocers of all sizes with the technical assistance needed to ensure all families have the same opportunity to safely purchase groceries online.”

The Expanding SNAP Options Act would create a technical assistance center to support to independent grocers that lack capacity and resources to support SNAP online purchasing. In addition, the legislation calls for the development of an online and app-based portal for EBT redemption to support smaller retailers in offering products for online SNAP purchasing.

The bill, too, would provide grants to retailers needing financial assistance to offer SNAP online as well as expand SNAP online purchasing to all states.

NGA called setting up for SNAP online transactions “a lengthy process,” noting that it requires certain POS technology and website functions, USDA approval and a testing period.

“As the food retail industry experiences a shift towards online transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical for all independents to have an opportunity to offer SNAP online, a process that can be resource- and labor-intensive,” Ferrara added. “This legislation offered by Sens. Durbin and Duckworth will benefit retailers who want to participate in SNAP online but lack the resources to do so.”

Nearly 40 million Americans now rely on SNAP benefits, and that number has soared amid the coronavirus pandemic, as more than 45 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Also, with stay-at-home orders and social distancing, many Americans have turned to online grocery pickup and delivery services to avoid going to stores and minimize exposure to COVID-19. The past couple of months have seen the USDA clear more states to offer SNAP online purchasing, but Durbin and Duckworth said wider access to the service is needed.

“As we face serious hunger needs during the pandemic, and with consumers opting to get groceries delivered to safely avoid crowds at the store, we must expand online SNAP buying,” Durbin stated. “Creating an online portal for more retailers to use will expand access to SNAP benefits and food programs for Americans in need. This important step will help millions of people safely put food on the table, especially in rural areas and from smaller community retailers.”

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D., Ill.) is expected to soon introduce an Expanding SNAP Options companion bill in the House of Representatives. NGA said it’s working to pass the legislation through Congress before it adjourns for the August recess.

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