Most Low-Income SNAP Recipients Still Barred from Using Their Benefits Online

05.22.2020
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On May 20, 2020, the Trump Administration issued a press release that claimed the following:

“In less than six weeks, amidst an unprecedented situation, USDA has expanded SNAP online purchasing to 36 states and the District of Columbia – nearly three-quarters of the states, covering 90% of SNAP households.”

This implies that 90% of SNAP households nationwide can now use their benefits online. That’s extremely misleading, for the following reasons:

  1. USDA didn’t actually expand “SNAP online purchasing to 36 states and the District of Columbia.” What USDA actually did was grant 36 states and DC the theoretical right to allow online purchasing in the future.
  2. Most of the states and DC will likely take months – and, in some cases, perhaps years – to successfully work with retailers and EBT contractors to actually implement this new option.
  3. Even in the few states where this has already been implemented, only a handful of retailers have started with online redemption, and sometimes in only some parts of those states.
  4. The few retailers that now allow online SNAP redemption for home delivery often have huge delivery backlogs for all customers, so SNAP customers are effectively prevented from readily using their SNAP benefits for home delivery. Additionally those retailers often charge high delivery fees and/or high minimum purchase requirements that make such online purchases for home delivery impractical for many SNAP households.
  5. The majority of retailers that do accept SNAP online do not provide home deliveries for such food, thereby negating the most important reasons (social distancing, alleviating food deserts, customer convenience, etc.) for allowing SNAP online purchases to begin with.
  6. Approximately 260,000 retail food stores now redeem SNAP in their stores; only a small handful of those now accept SNAP online.
  7. In no place in the United States can farmers markets, community supported agriculture sites, or farm stands currently accept SNAP benefits online.

In sum, currently, only a tiny percentage of SNAP recipients, and a tiny proportion of SNAP retailers nationwide, participate in the SNAP online program.

That is why we need far bolder administrative and legislative actions immediately to make online SNAP usage – at a wide variety of stores and markets – an actual reality for most SNAP recipients nationally.