U.S. Department of Agriculture Answers Congressman Ryan’s Call to Bring SNAP Benefits Online

Sep 15, 2016

Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today answered Congressman Ryan’s (D-OH) call to modernize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by allowing participants to purchase their groceries online.  The USDA announced today that they are seeking retailer volunteers for a two year, nationwide pilot program to test the program.

“For the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. If we continue on our current trajectory, we will have an adult obesity rate of 60 percent within 15 years. In a country, where 23.5 million people live in food deserts, we cannot allow the status quo to continue. We must find new ways for all Americans to have access to fresh, healthy food,” said Congressman Ryan. “I applaud the USDA for doing the right thing and beginning this pilot program. It is time for the government, and our society to catch up to the 21st century and begin to utilize the tools that can increase access to healthy foods for those communities that need them the most.”

“Online purchasing shows great promise to improve access to healthy food for SNAP participants living in neighborhoods and rural or tribal areas without grocery stores,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Online purchasing will also help those who are unable to access a grocery store due to a disability or lack of transportation.”

This Monday, September 12, 2015, Ryan was joined by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) to urge U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to expedite United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) acceptance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for online transactions, which would expand access to healthier foods for low-income individuals and families.

On July 12, 2016, Ryan hosted actress and activist Shailene Woodley and thought leaders to advocate for increased access to healthy food for low-income families with the use of technology and the importance of SNAP. They discussed how the use of the internet will strengthen SNAP by increasing access to healthier foods for all Americans.

The 2014 Farm Bill mandated a pilot be conducted to test the possibility of allowing retail food stores to accept SNAP benefits through online transactions. Up to five retailers in three states will be selected for this pilot and, once selected, the pilot is slated to begin next summer after the EBT processor completes system development work to allow for online transactions.

Since the passage of the Farm Bill, USDA has been working to lay the groundwork to put together the complex technical infrastructure required for this pilot. Online payment presents technical and security issues that will be tested in this controlled, limited way prior to nationwide expansion. USDA is committed to maintaining the security of SNAP benefits for both the protection of SNAP participant accounts and to prevent and detect trafficking, so SNAP online purchases must have a higher level of security than most other online purchases.

For households to make online purchases, the pilot requires retailer volunteers to provide service that is secure, private, and easy to use. As with all SNAP purchases, customers participating in the online pilot will only be able to use their SNAP benefits for eligible food purchases – not to cover any related charges, such as delivery or service fees. Retailers interested in participating should consult the online purchasing pilot Request for Volunteers Application Package available for download from the FNS public website.

USDA has taken many steps in the last several years to strengthen SNAP and increase access to healthy foods. Recently FNS announced a purchase and delivery pilot, which is designed for non-profits and government entities to improve access to groceries solely for homebound elderly and disabled SNAP participants. USDA also provided funding to incentivize participants in SNAP to purchase more healthy fruits and vegetables through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, increased farmers market participation in SNAP to improve access to fresh and nutritious food, and proposed updated SNAP retailer standards to include different varieties of healthy qualifying foods.

As the nation's first line of defense against hunger, SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month and is critical in the fight against hunger. SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budgets of 44 million low-income individuals. SNAP plays an important role in reducing both poverty and food insecurity in the United States—especially among children. SNAP is an effective and efficient health intervention for low-income families with a positive impact on children beginning before birth and lasting beyond childhood years, improving health, education, and economic outcomes.