Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Online Purchasing Expanded in First Two Years of Pandemic
The USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot allows households in participating States to use their SNAP benefits to buy groceries online from authorized, participating retailers. As with in-person redemption, benefits can be used online only for food items and cannot be used for additional expenses tied to online grocery shopping, such as tips or fees. Online SNAP grocery purchases can be delivered or picked up onsite as with other online grocery purchases. Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) benefits issued during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are similarly redeemable online.
The 2014 Farm Bill mandated a pilot to test the feasibility of secure online SNAP benefit redemptions with a few pilot retailers before eventual nationwide implementation, later mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill. The pilot launched with several food retailers in New York in April 2019 before expanding to five other States by April 1, 2020. In response to the pandemic, USDA, Food and Nutrition Service quickly expanded the pilot to incorporate additional States and retailers. By the end of September 2020, online SNAP and P-EBT benefit redemption was available in 45 States and Washington, DC. By the end of March 2022, it was available in all States except Alaska.
Early in the pilot’s rollout, relatively few retailers were authorized to accept benefits online, which required compliance with SNAP online purchasing protocols. Large online retailers Walmart and Amazon were among the first authorized for online benefit redemption at the time of implementation in all participating States except Hawaii and Washington, DC. The number of other participating retailers grew significantly in 2021 and 2022. In December 2020, FNS had authorized 13 retailers (each of which may include delivery or pickup from many individual stores under a single chain or retailer “banner”). This number grew to 116 in December 2021 and to 148 in March 2022. As more retailers participated, SNAP and P-EBT recipients gained more options for redeeming their benefits online.
During this pilot expansion period, the value of online benefits redeemed also grew. From February 2020 (the earliest month for which data are available) through December 2020, 1.7 percent of all SNAP and P-EBT benefit redemptions occurred online. This amounted to $1.5 billion in online redemptions. In 2021, the share of redemptions online nearly tripled to 4.5 percent, and the dollar amount of these redemptions more than quadrupled to $6.2 billion. The share of redemptions occurring online has continued to grow in 2022. From January through March 2022, 5.7 percent of redemptions occurred online, representing $1.9 billion in benefits.
COVID-19 Working Paper: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Redemptions during the Coronavirus Pandemic, by Jordan W. Jones, ERS, March 2021
Online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Purchasing Grew Substantially in 2020, by Jordan W. Jones, USDA, Economic Research Service, July 2021
The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2021 Annual Report, by Jordan W. Jones, Saied Toossi, and Leslie Hodges, ERS, June 2022
The Food and Nutrition Assistance Landscape: Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report, by Saied Toossi, Jordan W. Jones, and Leslie Hodges, ERS, August 2021