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Chaddsford Planning Associates comments on the USDA Innovative online SNAP Pilot



The Innovative Online SNAP Pilot enables SNAP shoppers in states that participate in the Pilot to purchase food online using their SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) benefits.

We are pleased that USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which is responsible for the rollout of the Pilot, has had such success in bringing electronic payments to the SNAP program.

The nature of the SNAP program makes rolling out electronic payments for food shoppers  paying with SNAP benefits much more difficult than rolling out a simple debit card program. The SNAP electronic payment program, for example, involves coordinating the requirements of  the federal government, 53 state and territorial governments, numerous food retailing companies and food stores scattered across the country, as well as the requirements of the electronic payments industry. This unique combination of Federal, state, and multiple private sector requirements is a challenge for the Pilot. 

The Pilot currently includes the states of Alabama, California, Florida, Kentucky, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Texas,and Washington. Other states currently approved to move ahead with planning to allow online SNAP food purchase include Arizona, the District of Columbia, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Vermont.

Having contributed to the SNAP online food purchase Pilot in its early planning days, as an EBT Subject Matter Expert for one of the contractors hired to help plan the Pilot, Chaddsford Planning Associates is proud to see the Pilot grow to include more than 4 million more SNAP participants through the addition of Kentucky, Missouri and Texas, who will be eligible to conduct their SNAP benefit transactions online. Kentucky will add 500,000 SNAP individuals to the Pilot, Missouri will add another 650,000 SNAP shoppers. Some 3.2 million Texans receive SNAP benefits and will be part of the Pilot.

In 2018 we reviewed and provided commentary on discussion guides to be used with retailers that participate in the online SNAP Pilot program. The retailers currently accepting SNAP payments online include  Amazon, Walmart,  Wright’s market and Shop Rite. Pilot retailers, including Internet retailers, must obey the Food and Nutrition Service retailer (FNS) stocking requirements, and be an FNS authorized retailer, although a separate FNS authorization will be required for online SNAP transactions. A participating retailer must also currently sell its goods online and its website must be capable of being updated to meet all of the FNS requirements to participate in the online SNAP food purchasing Pilot. Retailers wishing to take part in the Pilot must contact FNS in writing to express its desire. Retailer systems must be capable of successfully completing end-to-end system testing of the online production environment with FNS. Retailers interested in being part of the FNS online SNAP Pilot are advised to contact the Food and Nutrition Service directly for more information.

The Food and Nutrition Service continues to receive interest from other states that wish to join the SNAP online food purchase Pilot as it expands further. However the third-party processors that help process SNAP transactions in their states as well as any retailers (including those already authorized to accept SNAP payments) that desire to join the Pilot are responsible for being technologically ready to participate in the Pilot.

Background

Congress, by way of the 2014 Farm Bill, mandated that the Agriculture Department conduct a pilot project to test the feasibility of conducting SNAP transactions online. The Pilot described above is designed to meet that mandate. The online Pilot is required to be secure, private and easy to use for SNAP shoppers. Retailers must be prepared to provide the same level of support as that afforded customers executing non-online SNAP transactions. SNAP benefits accessed online can not be used for service transactions of any kind, including delivery charges. Food retailers wishing to participate in the online SNAP Pilot should submit a letter of interest  confirming that they are capable of meeting the requirements of the program at sm.fn.snaponline@usda.gov

Why should we continue to support USDA’s Innovative Online SNAP Food Purchase Pilot?  The reasons to continue supporting the online use of SNAP benefits for food purchase are the same logic that led to the replacement of food stamps with EBT as the authorizing instrument for the purchase of a family’s supplemental food paid for by the Agriculture Department. No one questions the logic of eliminating food stamps as the purchase instrument for SNAP benefits in favor of EBT cards. Nor should the addition of online use of SNAP benefits be questioned, since the logic behind the Innovative Online SNAP Food Purchase Pilot is the same as that which gave birth to EBT. Part of that logic was inclusion. Online payment with SNAP benefits is another step towards allowing SNAP shoppers to use the same payment technology as non-SNAP shoppers. It also simplifies the SNAP transaction at checkout by providing a transaction that looks just like a non-SNAP online payment. And because of this, the SNAP shopper is another step closer to removing the stigma of a Government payer. For the retailer and the state agency, the Online SNAP Food Purchase Pilot provided an electronic tracking system for purchase transactions made online, similar to online transactions made through a bank card, thus streamlining reconciliation.