Independent Grocers Supports New Bill to Expand Online SNAP Options

U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced a bill to address hunger needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchasing choices by enabling additional retailers to participate in the program.

The Expanding SNAP Options Act would provide funding for the creation of a universal online and app-based portal to make access to nutritious foods from the full variety of SNAP retailers possible and easy to navigate for consumers, according to a press release from senator Duckworth.

“As someone whose family depended on food stamps and reduced-price meals after my father lost his job when I was in high school, I know firsthand just how important access to affordable food can be,” said Duckworth.

“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. 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,” added Duckworth.

Online SNAP purchasing is currently limited to a very small number of approved retailers due to technological and financial barriers, and in many states, the only options are Walmart and Amazon.

“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. Creating an online portal for more retailers to use will expand access to SNAP benefits and food programs for Americans in need,” said Durbin.

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Although some retailers allow SNAP for in-person grocery pickup, options are limited as it requires the grocer to have certain point-of-sale technology available. 

Not only do these challenges limit safe food options for SNAP recipients, but it also restricts small farmers, independent retailers, and other food providers from the economic benefit of SNAP payments.

NGA Supports the Expanding SNAP Options Act

The National Grocers Association (NGA) stressed the importance of the bill that lowers barriers for independent grocers to participate in the SNAP Online Purchasing program.

The NGA is the national trade association representing the retail and wholesale grocers that comprise the independent sector of the food distribution industry.

“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,” said NGA President & CEO Greg Ferrara.

“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. This legislation offered by Senators Durbin and Duckworth will benefit retailers who want to participate in SNAP online but lack the resources to do so,” said Ferrara.

How the Bill Works

According to the NGA, through the SNAP public-private partnership, independent supermarkets serve tens of millions of Americans in need of food assistance, ensuring low-income households have access to nutritional food options.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the grocery industry saw an increase in customers using online and delivery services to purchase products. At the same time, the number of Americans participating in SNAP dramatically increased; however, as of March, only a few states and retailers had the authority to allow SNAP participants to use online services to purchase groceries.

USDA effectively responded to this concern by expanding its SNAP online purchasing pilot program and allowing additional states and retailers to participate. SNAP online purchasing is now approved in 43 states and the District of Columbia, but many independent retailers still face barriers in offering the program to customers.

Getting set up to accept SNAP payments online is a lengthy process that requires a certain point-of-sale technology and website functions, approval by USDA, and a testing period.

The bill would address hunger needs during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond by doing the following:

The Expanding SNAP Options Act would address hunger needs during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond by doing the following:

  • Require the Secretary of Agriculture to implement online SNAP purchasing in all states.
  • Provide $25 million to develop and maintain a secure, easy-to-use online and app-based portal for EBT redemption to support smaller retailers in offering products for online SNAP purchasing.
  • Provide $75 million for the creation of a USDA Technical Assistance Center to facilitate online purchasing and use of the portal for smaller retailers, direct-to-consumer farmers, and farmers’ markets, and provide public information about which local vendors participate in SNAP online purchasing.

The NGA said it is working to pass the legislation through Congress before it adjourns for the August recess.