In an effort to further modernize federal nutrition programs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is partnering with five states to test mobile payment technology in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri and Oklahoma will be the first states involved with the pilot.
Over the coming years, SNAP users in those five states will have the option to use mobile payments methods as an alternative to their physical SNAP card. Those methods will include tapping or scanning their personal mobile device, as well as other technology-enabled options.
[Read more: "Cuts to SNAP Benefits and What They Mean for Grocers"]
“Today’s announcement represents another step forward for the future of SNAP and the many ways our programs are embracing modern and innovative ideas to improve nutrition security,” said Stacy Dean, USDA deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. “Digital wallets are changing the way we pay for everything, including groceries. We want to ensure SNAP leverages the latest technology to improve access to benefits, reduce fraud, and provide a better overall experience for the families we serve.”
The FNS will work with state agencies and electronic benefit transfer (EBT) processors, mobile wallet providers, retailers and others to roll out the pilot program. Retailers and households receiving SNAP benefits can decide whether to use the new technology. Shoppers can continue to use their EBT card as preferred.
“Our Administration is committed to centering equity in all that we do. Allowing households to buy groceries using SNAP benefits through their mobile device not only creates a more dignified and secure checkout experience, but also provides low-income families access to the same purchasing technologies as other customers,” said Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey. “Massachusetts being selected as one of the Mobile Payment Pilot states highlights how we have been a leader in technology innovation, and I look forward to working with our federal partners to continue delivering results for our residents.”
While the 15% emergency increase in SNAP benefits, introduced during the height of the pandemic, expired at the end of February, SNAP recipients will receive allotments based on household income instead of household size, which was the pre-pandemic practice. A 12.5% increase in SNAP benefits was applied in October as part of regular cost of living adjustment, and maximum benefit amounts to recipients in the 48 contiguous states were raised on Oct. 1.
In January, the National Grocers Association Foundation received a $5 million grant from the FNS to establish a SNAP EBT Modernization Technical Assistance Center that will lead independent grocers through the process of implementing online SNAP grocery purchasing. It will instruct retailers in the federal requirements for SNAP EBT modernization, including the online purchasing and mobile payment programs.