Walmart is making it easier for people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to buy food via the retailer’s grocery pickup service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The move comes as SNAP goes further into the realm of online payments, a years-long effort that could gain traction during a time of social distancing and increased consumer need.
The Walmart program enables consumers to select groceries for pickup via the Walmart e-commerce site or the Walmart grocery mobile app. Consumers select the EBT option during pickup but are still required to present their EBT cards during grocery pickup to a Walmart associate for swiping. If any items in the order do not quality for SNAP, the consumer is required to present an alternative form of payment to cover the difference.
Most Walmart grocery pickup locations accept SNAP except for automated collection points or pickup locations that are not at Walmart stores, according to the company. When it comes to Walmart grocery deliveries, only consumers in New York State can use SNAP for those purchases. In New York State, in fact, Walmart, along with Amazon and ShopRite, are among the retailers that allow consumers to make online grocery purchases via SNAP and have those items delivered.
Before the pandemic started and job losses mounted, some 40 million U.S. consumers, on average, took part in SNAP every month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which operates SNAP. Indeed, the energy behind the new Walmart SNAP grocery delivery rollout can be traced in part to a pre-pandemic, two-year pilot program launched in 2019 by USDA. Under the pilot, consumers can buy SNAP-eligible grocery items online but have to pay delivery and service fees out of their own pockets. On April 1, Nebraska joined this SNAP pilot program for grocery ordering, joining New York and Washington states, Oregon, Iowa and Alabama. California, Florida, Arizona and Idaho are set to join the pilot in the coming weeks, the USDA says. So far, Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite and Wright’s Market are taking part in the pilot, though other retailers seem set to follow, according to the federal agency.
“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food – by ordering and paying for groceries online,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the time. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.”
The push to marry SNAP with increasingly popular online grocery purchases, however, has roots that go back at least six years. That’s because the ongoing SNAP pilot program launched by the USDA was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, enacted as e-commerce and digital payments were becoming a regular part of the daily life of consumers, and as mobile commerce and mobile payments were starting to make significant strides. Grocery retail remains behind the curve when it comes online and mobile payments and purchases, but changing shopping habits during the ongoing pandemic could give spark to newer forms of commerce and transactions in this area.
The increasing attention to so-called “food deserts” – areas where consumers tend to lack affordable options for fresh and health food – is also a force in the broader push to make SNAP more efficient and flexible for grocery consumers. Concerns about program and payments security, however, have acted at times as a brake on such progress when it comes to SNAP and online and mobile grocery purchases.
SNAP also includes the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides food grants and other services to eligible consumers. According to Walmart, its grocery pickup program does not include WIC, and there was no indication about any new online grocery ordering efforts what would involve WIC. Even so, this ongoing expansion of SNAP to grocery pickup services, and the USDA’s ongoing pilot, could help increase the payment options for millions of grocery shoppers in the coming months.