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Using Food Stamps For Online Grocery Shopping Is Getting Easier

Jun 26, 2019

Walmart is expanding a program that allows for online orders of groceries to be picked up and paid for with food stamps at more than 2,500 locations.

It's the latest move by a major retailer to give low-income shoppers more options for using food stamps in the modern era of online shopping. Walmart, one of the world's largest retailers, began piloting the use of food stamps for online grocery pickup service in 2017 in a few locations.

Separately, Walmart, Amazon and ShopRite are offering shoppers in the New York area the option of making online purchases with food stamps and having them delivered.

In this case, shoppers who live in areas that qualify don't have to physically drive to the store to pick up the items they purchased. However, they do have to pay the delivery fees out of their own pocket.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched this program in April as a two-year pilot project for those on food stamps, the program also known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Everyone on food stamps has a bank card called an EBT card, backed by the government. The program allows for customers to pay with their card online, just like a debit or credit card.

At Walmart, online shopping using food stamps is available throughout New York state. For Amazon and ShopRite, the service is only available to those living in New York City. In coming months, the program is expected to expand into more states, including Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.

Walmart spokesperson Molly Blakeman said the company's goal is to be able to give families the option to use food stamps to make online purchases in their homes, no matter where they live.

"While we're waiting to roll that out, we're able to do the transactions on the curbside through SNAP at pickup," she said.

Last week, Amazon rolled out benefits aimed at low-income shoppers, letting customers sign up its credit card or get a separate card they can reload with cash at most convenience stores. In 2017, the company started offering Amazon Prime memberships at a discounted rate for recipients of government aid.

The reaction to Amazon's new programs has been mixed. The credit card is available to people with bad credit or no credit at all and offers 5% cash back on purchases. However, the interest rate is higher than that of an average credit card, according to The Washington Post.

Walmart and Amazon have been increasingly moving into each other's turf. As Amazon aims to broaden its customer base in low-income communities, Walmart is rolling out services designed to attract more affluent customers. Last year, Walmart introduced Jetblack, an invitation-only personal shopping service in New York. Walmart has also been offering higher-end brands on Walmart.com.

Editor's note: Amazon and Walmart are among NPR's sponsors.

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