Nearly all 50 states have opted into an online purchasing pilot for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While the program offers a safer way to shop and has the potential to overcome geographic barriers to food and nutrition insecurity, food system activists worry the pilot could fall short when it comes to equitable access for rural communities.

Mandated by the 2014 Farm Bill, the pilot is testing the feasibility and implications of allowing retail food stores to accept SNAP benefits online. Eight states were selected in 2017 for the initial roll-out of the pilot. But as the COVID-19 pandemic drove retailers and shoppers to increasingly turn to online ordering and home delivery for groceries, USDA prioritized expanding the pilot to more states. Currently, all states but Alaska, Louisiana, and Montana have implemented an expedited online purchasing program.

In general, Michel Nischan, co-founder and chairman of Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit dedicated to addressing nutrition insecurity, thinks the ability to use SNAP benefits online “has real powerful potential.”

Geographic access is often a barrier for consumers to buy healthy food, Nischan tells Food Tank. Although a person may be able to buy food at a nearby corner store, the vendor may not offer healthy options, like fresh fruits and vegetables — and stores that do may be miles away.

Chloe Eberhardt, the senior program manager for SNAP at Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, agrees with Nischan that transportation is often an obstacle for SNAP participants to use their benefits.

Read the full article about broadening SNAP access by Elizabeth S. Eaton at Food Tank.