(Photo by Flickr user Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license)
Online grocery shopping brings convenience. But if it’s available to everyone, it’s also seen as one way to help people in food deserts get access to fresh food.
In a move toward opening the service up for low-income folks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking to test online grocery shopping for people who receive SNAP, commonly known as the food stamps program, benefits.
The program is being tested in a handful of states starting this summer, and Maryland is among them. Locations of ShopRite and Safeway in the state were selected for the pilot. Amazon is also set to start accepting SNAP payments in Maryland for grocery orders.
The USDA wants to test online ordering and payment systems for a two year period to make sure everything is working properly and secure before opening it up to all grocers. An announcement underlines that shoppers can pay for groceries with SNAP benefits, but not delivery or service charges.
Maryland’s inclusion earned praise from Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen.
“Unfortunately, 1 in 4 Baltimore City residents live in an area identified as a food desert,” she said. “This pilot will break down barriers and bring groceries to people, saving them time and money.”
While the federal government is now getting involved, the idea was already being tested on the local level in Baltimore. ShopRite is working with the city health department on a program called Virtual Supermarket via which city residents can order online and pick up groceries at a community hub. When a new version launched in 2014, officials said it was the first to accept EBT payments in the country.