June 12, 2020
Reps. Pressley and McGovern, Senators Markey and Warren lead Mass. Delegation in Calling on Trump Admin. to Bring More Retailers into SNAP Online Ordering Program
WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and House Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern (MA-02) led the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation in calling on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food Nutrition Service (FNS) to do more to bring more a broader selection of retailers into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online electronic benefit transfer (EBT) purchasing pilot program. SNAP plays a critical role in America’s food system, currently providing nutritious meals to 45 million people across the nation, including 785,000 people in the Commonwealth. The SNAP online purchasing program allows beneficiaries to shop for their groceries online and to have these items delivered to their homes. This service can be especially important during the current pandemic, as many SNAP beneficiaries are elderly or disabled and are at higher risk of hospitalization if infected with coronavirus.
FNS recently approved Massachusetts’ application to participate in the online purchasing pilot program, but the only retailers these SNAP beneficiaries will have access to upon implementation are Amazon and Walmart. There are more than 260,000 retailers that participate in SNAP across the country, including 5,000 SNAP retailers in the Commonwealth. However, FNS has only approved five retailers to participate in the SNAP online delivery program.
“If the online purchasing pilot is to succeed in expanding access for SNAP beneficiaries in Massachusetts, and as the pandemic drives up increased demand for these services, USDA must take aggressive steps to enroll a variety of retailers in the program,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FNS Administrator Pam Miller. “We call on USDA to provide clearer guidance for SNAP retailers interested in participating in the SNAP online purchasing program and to consider providing technical assistance and support to further increase the participation of community retailers in this innovative approach to food access.”
A copy of the letter can be found HERE.
Also signing the letter was are Chairman Richard E. Neal (MA-01), and Representatives Lori Trahan (MA-3), Joseph Kennedy III (MA-04), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08), William R. Keating (MA-09).
“We applaud USDA’s efforts to open online purchasing for SNAP recipients, as it will give people much needed flexibility during the pandemic and beyond. However, we urge USDA to expeditiously approve local grocers and bodegas for this pilot, beyond the larger companies of Walmart and Amazon. Not only do SNAP recipients need safe contact-free access to fresh produce, dairy, meat and other protein sources; our local grocers rely on SNAP dollars to support their businesses and the economic stimulus that these federal nutrition dollars bring to local communities. We stand with Senator Markey and the Massachusetts delegation in their request to ease restrictions to allow smaller local retailers to participate in this program,” said The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, The Greater Boston Food Bank, The Worcester County Food Bank, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, Project Bread, and Merrimack County Food Bank in a combined statement.
The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.
Dear Secretary Purdue and Administrator Miller:
As Massachusetts implements the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online electronic benefit transfer (EBT) purchasing pilot program, we write to request that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) expand their efforts to bring more food retailers onboard. Doing so will improve the pilot program, expand food access for beneficiaries, and directly support local economies. 1 FNS approved Massachusetts to provide online purchasing to SNAP recipients in May, 2 but we are concerned that Massachusetts SNAP beneficiaries do not have access to a wide variety of retailers within the online purchasing program.
SNAP is an indispensable part of America’s food system and provides nutritious meals to about 45 million people across the United States, including 785,000 people in Massachusetts.3 Authorized as part of the 2014 farm bill, the SNAP online purchasing pilot program provides a convenient way for SNAP beneficiaries to shop for groceries online and, for many, to have these items delivered to their homes. This capability is especially important during the current pandemic; SNAP beneficiaries, many of whom are elderly or severely disabled4 and are therefore at higher risk of hospitalization if infected with the novel coronavirus, need flexible access to healthy food. Further, SNAP benefits provide critical economic stimulus to local communities, especially during recessionary times.
FNS must do more to ensure that the online purchasing program meets the needs of Massachusetts residents. Currently, FNS has approved the participation of only five EBT retailers in the online purchasing program and only two larger retailers for Massachusetts: Amazon and Walmart. 6 Yet more than 260,000 retailers participate in SNAP across the nation, 7 and over 5,000 retailers participate in Massachusetts. 8 Lack of a wider range of approved retailers leaves Massachusetts SNAP beneficiaries with extremely limited options, especially for fruits, vegetables, and other perishable food.
If the online purchasing pilot is to succeed in expanding access for SNAP beneficiaries in Massachusetts, and as the pandemic drives up increased demand for these services, USDA must take aggressive steps to enroll a variety of retailers in the program. USDA has noted that online payment presents “technical and security” challenges for the SNAP online purchasing program,9 but has not provided sufficient guidance or technical assistance on how interested retailers can best address the IT and security requirements.10 We call on USDA to provide clearer guidance for SNAP retailers interested in participating in the SNAP online purchasing program and to consider providing technical assistance and support to further increase the participation of community retailers in this innovative approach to food access.
To that end, we ask you to respond to the following questions by June 24, 2020:
Please describe the steps USDA has taken to expand the number of SNAP retailers participating in the SNAP online delivery pilot program and USDA’s plans to directly assist interested retailers in meeting the multiple requirements that FNS has implemented for participating in the online program.
Please describe the steps USDA has taken to address the “technical and security” challenges faced by interested retailers, and any plans USDA has to issue additional guidance for retailers to address these challenges.
Please describe any other challenges USDA has come across that are preventing more retailers from participating in the SNAP online purchasing pilot program and any steps USDA is taking to help interested retailers address these additional challenges.
Please provide a comprehensive list of retailers that submitted an application to USDA to participate in the SNAP online purchasing program, but were denied participation in the current rollout, including why each application was denied.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. If you have any questions about these requests, please contact Brianna Battle of Senator Markey’s staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.