Amazon customers in nearly a dozen more U.S. states are now able to use their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits to purchase groceries online, the retailer announced on Thursday. The news represents a significant expansion of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program introduced in 2019 that aimed to open up online grocery shopping to those on public assistance. This program is even more critical now, as in-store shopping puts consumers at risk of contracting the deadly novel coronavirus.
To date, participating retailers in the USDA pilot program have included Walmart, Amazon, ShopRite and other smaller chains.
Amazon confirmed to TechCrunch that the 11 new states that now support using SNAP for online grocery include those that were added starting last week through today, Thursday, May 28.
The initial expansion of the pilot added New Mexico, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, which all became active last week. On Tuesday of this week, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota and New Jersey rolled out. And today, Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia were added as well.
With these additions, Amazon customers on public assistance can shop online for groceries across a total of 25 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C. At checkout, they can pay for groceries using their SNAP EBT.
Including the new states, Amazon now offers the use of SNAP EBT for online grocery in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
However, Amazon is not the only retailer offering online grocery for SNAP EBT customers in these 25 states.
According to the USDA’s website, SNAP users can now order their groceries online through either Amazon or Walmart in these markets.
The site also indicates that Amazon is the only retailer supporting the District of Columbia at present. In addition, ShopRite supports the use of SNAP for online groceries in Maryland, New Jersey and New York. And Wright’s Markets is participating in the pilot program in Alabama.
The USDA’s website indicates several more states are now in the planning phase, so they can add online purchasing as a shopping option soon. These include Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wyoming.
As part of Amazon’s participation in the USDA program, it not only enabled the use of SNAP EBT as a payment method, it also made its Amazon Fresh service available to SNAP recipients in states where Fresh is available without requiring a Prime membership. And it offered free shipping on both Amazon Fresh and Amazon Pantry orders.
At launch, Amazon had said the USDA pilot program would “dramatically increase access to food for more remote customers.”
However, in the coronavirus era, access to online grocery can be a life-saving measure for some.
The pandemic has complicated access to food for those on SNAP benefits, and for high-risk individuals on SNAP in particular. These consumers now have to risk getting COVID-19 every time they go out for groceries themselves. And as more workers become unemployed due to the economic impacts from the pandemic, more people are joining public assistance programs like SNAP.
In light of the pandemic, the USDA said it would fast-track any state that wanted to join the pilot. California, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia, D.C., North Carolina and Vermont were just approved in April, for example. In May, the USDA approved Minnesota, Colorado, Nevada, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Wyoming.
In less than six weeks, the USDA has expanded access to the program to a total of 36 states plus D.C., it says, though many are not yet live. When they launch, however, online purchasing for groceries will be available to more than 90% of SNAP participants, the USDA has noted.