Amazon is among seven grocers selected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to test online grocery ordering and payment using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
Amazon will accept online food stamp orders in Maryland, New York and New Jersey as part of the program. The two-year trial begins this summer and covers seven states, mostly on the East Coast. Safeway is the only grocer in the trial that will accept online food stamp orders and purchases on the West Coast, with Washington and Oregon as part of its program.
Amazon responded to the news with the following statement:
“Amazon is excited to participate in the USDA SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot. We are committed to making food accessible through online grocery shopping, offering all customers the lowest prices possible. Amazon’s selection and competitive pricing can improve the grocery shopping experience for SNAP participants while helping them extend their benefits further.”
Amazon’s grocery delivery service AmazonFresh requires shoppers to be Prime members, a program that costs $99 per year or $10.99 per month. Tack on an additional $14.99 per month for AmazonFresh — a recent change from a $299 annual fee — and a $9.99 fee for deliveries under $40, and Amazon could become a pricey proposition for food stamp recipients, who are not allowed to use their benefits on delivery and service charges.
Amazon has not said whether shoppers at its future drive-up grocery stores will need to be Prime members or how the pricing structure will work. Amazon is under construction and getting close to opening its first drive-up grocery stores in Seattle, with one in the Ballard neighborhood and another just south of downtown Seattle in Sodo.
The pilot program includes a mixture of large and small grocers. Joining Amazon and Safeway in the project are FreshDirect, ShopRite, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers, Dash’s Market. Notably absent are some of the largest U.S. grocery chains such as Kroger, Whole Foods and Publix as well as growing superstore chains like Walmart, Target and Costco.
The USDA said it eventually hopes to expand the pilot program nationwide, and it may add more retailers as the test progresses. Approximately 43 million low-income people across the U.S. use SNAP, according to USDA.
USDA said online ordering and payment present technical and security challenges that the trial will tackle, but exploring online options is necessary for people living in places with a dearth of grocery options.
“Online purchasing is a potential lifeline for SNAP participants living in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where access to healthy food choices can be limited,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.