By Molly Pfaffenroth, NGA Director of Government Relations
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, customers nationwide have been shifting their shopping habits to avoid physically going into retail locations, and many grocers have responded to this consumer shift by providing the opportunity for customers to purchase items via e-commerce or curbside pickup.
At the same time, the number of customers qualifying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has skyrocketed, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS) has provided emergency allotment benefits and implemented programs such as Pandemic-EBT, a program to provide eligible children whose schools are closed with EBT dollars in place of free- or reduced-price school meals.
However, at the start of the pandemic, it was not possible for all customers using SNAP benefits to purchase their groceries online. As of March, only eight states and four retailers (Wright’s Market, ShopRite, Amazon and Walmart) were part of the SNAP online purchasing pilot program that originally launched in 2019. FNS quickly responded to this concern at the beginning of the pandemic by allowing additional states and retailers to apply to participate in SNAP online. To date, 44 states have been approved to participate, and 40 states have launched.
Steps for Retailers to Participate in SNAP Online
FNS released several guidelines that retailers must follow in order to participate in SNAP online purchasing. The retailer must be an eligible SNAP retailer, have an e-commerce presence and have a website that is capable of being updated to meet requirements to operate online purchasing. Upon meeting these requirements, retailers should email a letter of intent to FNS at firstname.lastname@example.org. FNS will then work with the retailer and the third-party processor for secure PIN entry, as well as perform a testing period to ensure that the process functions properly. It is important to note that SNAP benefits cannot be used to pay for delivery fees or associated charges.
Legislation Supporting Independent Grocers
Although SNAP online purchasing has expanded across nearly all 50 states, independent grocers must overcome several barriers to participate. The process is lengthy and takes time for retailers to complete, thereby allowing already-approved larger competitors to expand into other states, while independents must work through the application, approval and testing process. There can also be financial burdens for smaller retailers to make the shift to e-commerce, as well as technical difficulties experienced along the way.
NGA is supportive of the Expanding SNAP Options Act, legislation introduced in July by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) that invests resources into helping independent grocers participate in SNAP online purchasing. This legislation would create a technical assistance center to provide support to independent grocers that lack capacity and resources to support SNAP online, provide grants to retailers in need of financial assistance to offer the program, develop an online and app-based portal for Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) redemption to support smaller retailers, and expand SNAP online to all states nationwide.
How NGA Can Help Independent Grocers
NGA has been walking retailers through the process of applying, editing letters of intent and maintaining close communication with FNS and companies involved in the program. If you are interested in learning more about SNAP online purchasing and the process of applying to participate, please contact Molly Pfaffenroth, NGA’s director of government relations, at email@example.com. Additional resources are listed below.