The National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents the independent grocery sector, has thrown its support behind the Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020, introduced July 2 by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois. The legislation seeks to lower the barriers for independent grocers to take part in the SNAP Online Purchasing program.
“This legislation will be instrumental in helping grocers process online SNAP payments, allowing them to expand their e-commerce offerings to their SNAP customer base, and benefit low-income households, the elderly and disabled Americans,” noted Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Arlington, Virginia-based NGA. “As the food retail industry experiences a shift towards online transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical for all independents to have an opportunity to offer SNAP online, a process that can be resource- and labor-intensive. This legislation offered by Sens. Durbin and Duckworth will benefit retailers who want to participate in SNAP online but lack the resources to do so.”
Through the SNAP public-private partnership, independent supermarkets serve millions of Americans who need food assistance. During the COVID-19 crisis, the number of customers using online and delivery services to buy groceries has increased significantly, as did the number of Americans participating in SNAP; however, as of March, only a few states and retailers had the authority to permit SNAP participants to use online services to buy groceries.
USDA responded to this state of affairs by expanding its SNAP online purchasing pilot program and enabling more states and retailers to take part. SNAP online purchasing is now allowed in 43 states and the District of Columbia, but many independent retailers still face obstacles in offering the program to shoppers. Specifically, getting set up to accept SNAP payments online is a long process requiring particular point-of-sale technology and website functions, approval by USDA, and a testing period.
The Expanding SNAP Options Act of 2020 would create a technical assistance center to offer support to independent grocers that lack capacity and resources to support online SNAP purchasing; award grants to retailers that need financial assistance to offer SNAP online; develop an online and app-based portal for EBT redemption to help smaller retailers offer products for online SNAP purchasing; and expand online SNAP to all states.
Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives soon. NGA is working to get the legislation through Congress before the legislative body adjourns in August.
The trade group is also involved in a federal initiative to boost access to healthy food for low-income consumers via SNAP.