Through the expansion of the online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, grocery retailers including Amazon are making it easier for low-income families to access the foods they need.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon was among a handful of companies working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a pilot program that allowed shoppers to use their SNAP benefits online. The new platform allowed eaters to purchase groceries from participating retailers and have them shipped directly to their front doors.

But by March of 2020, when governments were advising that everyone stay home, the program was still only available in select states. “We understood that this very vital subsidy for food was not available beyond brick and mortar,” Nancy Dalton, the Head of Community Experience and Customer Marketing for Amazon Access, tells Food Tank.

The pandemic fueled the expansion of the program as the need “to get as many states online as possible,” became more apparent, Dalton says. Today, consumers can use Online SNAP in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

At Amazon, Online SNAP falls under Amazon Access, a suite of programs and services that Dalton and her colleagues design and implement to expand access to food and other basic necessities.

For Dalton, whose family relied on SNAP benefits for a time, this work is personal. “I had to go to the corner store with the brown and purple money to get food for our household,” she tells Food Tank. “And I saw my mother hold her head down and feel ashamed about that. And even me, as a kid, I was like ‘Oh, I hate this money because it makes us look different.’”

Dalton believes that Online SNAP is a powerful advancement that allows eaters, regardless of their income, to shop without feeling how she once did. This program “allows people who receive [SNAP] the dignity to order within their home where no one knows what type of payment you’re using,” she tells Food Tank.

That’s why the Amazon Access team is also working to spread awareness of this option to communities. “A lot of what we do both online, but mostly at the grassroots level, is to spend time actually walking people through the process…step by step,” Dalton says. From there, “we watch it in action. And then we continuously build on our instruction mechanisms and our communication mechanisms to make sure that they’re covering all of the needs of those who might be digitally adept and those who might actually need a little bit more help.”

Read the full article about food access by Elena Seeley at Food Tank.