MASSACHUSETTS FOOD STAMP recipients can now purchase groceries online through Amazon and Walmart as part of a US Department of Agriculture pilot program.
The program went live Friday, allowing participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to use their electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards to buy food on the retailers’ websites and have it delivered to avoid personal visits to the grocery store. The food assistance benefit cannot be used to pay the delivery fees.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, applications for SNAP benefits have increased upwards of 400 percent, resulting in more than 80,000 new households now receiving SNAP in the Bay State, according to Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Amy Kershaw.
“With the launch of this new online purchasing option, we are seeing further equity brought to food purchasing options in Massachusetts,” Kershaw said in a statement.
The agency worked closely with the state’s EBT vendor, Conduent, and the companies over the past month to expedite participation in the pilot program.
“This will provide a much-needed alternative for people who are quarantining, sick with Covid-19, or in a vulnerable population and don’t want to leave their house to go to the market,” said Laura Sylvester, a legislative and community partnership coordinator for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Sylvester said the organization is working with state and federal partners to expand the retail options beyond Amazon and Walmart to include local and regional stores, which she said “will help to maximize the benefits to the Massachusetts economy.”
Food insecurity is impacting one in three Massachusetts residents right now, according to Project Bread, which deems itself as the state’s only anti-hunger organization. That is a staggering 300 percent increase in just three months.
“Until now, not being able to buy groceries online with SNAP benefits for home delivery is one of the most common concerns we’ve heard during this pandemic from the thousands of families we assist through Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline,” said Erin McAleer, president of Project Bread. “”Everyone has a right to access food safely.”
Other measures to address hunger are being pursued by the Massachusetts Food Security Task Force, part of the state’s COVID-19 command center. Gov. Charlie Baker recently announced $56 million is being funded to initiate the group’s recommendations around hunger and food access.