Post Top Ad

EBT Goes Online to Solve the Food-Desert Problem

The US Agriculture Department, which administers what is colloquially known as the Food Stamp Program, is toying with the idea of allowing program participants to purchase food online. This is made possible because the program uses Electronic Benefits Transfer technology to authorize purchases. 

EBT uses standard debit-card technology and infrastructure to authorize food purchases for eligible shoppers. Since cardholders in the program must be preauthorized, EBT helps harden the program against fraud by providing an audit trail of data that the bad guys can only guess at. If they haven't caught you yet, they will. Furthermore, food retailers, online or on site, must be certified by the federal government to ensure they are legitimate retail food sellers.

Many analysts who track the program believe that online sales will help alleviate the problem of so-called food deserts. The Agriculture Department defines a food deserts as an area where at least 500 people or at least 33 percent of the population live more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In rural stretches of the country the 1-mile boundary is widened to 10 miles. (see

The Agriculture Department this year will be testing whether online sales can solve the food-desert issue while maintaining the integrity of the program, its resistant to fraud and abuse.