Online grocers are increasingly allowing underprivileged consumers to use EBT payments (the modern equivalent of food stamps) at a time when the pandemic has made going to the store too risky for many shoppers.
The latest such move came from Instacart and ALDI, which announced they would allow customers to pay for same-day delivery or pick up food orders using their EBT SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards.
Instacart said it would be rolling out the pilot program at more than 60 ALDI locations in Georgia, with plans to expand that to more than 570 stores in Illinois, California, Florida and Pennsylvania in the coming months.
But because the EBT program (funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) doesn’t cover the purchase of things such as paper products, toiletries or alcohol, customers will have the ability to choose from EBT SNAP-qualified items and also decide the amount of EBT benefits they want to apply toward items in their cart.
The move by the two companies is just the latest initiative in a growing trend of EBT acceptance for online grocery shoppers. Such moves had been going on long before COVID-19, but the pandemic added new urgency as more and more Americans moved to shop for groceries online.
The expanded online access to EBT benefits also comes at a time when a growing number of Americans — more than 54 million — are receiving monthly SNAP benefits to address what the USDA calls “food insecurity.”
At the same time, health concerns continue to be a major worry for two-thirds of shoppers surveyed by PYMNTS. They felt going to the store put them at risk of catching COVID-19. It also comes at a time when COVID has prompted four times as many people to buy groceries online than did pre-pandemic.
But while all of that means providing digital SNAP benefits is on the rise, the issue isn’t really new. The government first began investigating the prospect of allowing SNAP recipients to pay for their groceries online four years ago.
But some prominent players have enabled online EBT payments in recent months, including:
Amazon announced in May that it had won USDA approval to expand its pilot SNAP online-shopping program to 25 states.
Since then, the program has grown even further, and today Amazon accepts SNAP EBT in all states except Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine and Montana.
The online retailing giant accepts EBT on three platforms — Amazon.com’s groceries section, Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh, but not at Amazon-owned WholeFoods.com. However, the sites that do take EBT offer free delivery with a minimum order size and no Amazon Prime membership.
Walmart has had some form of online EBT acceptance for more than a year, with customers ordering food online and showing their EBT cards in-store to pick up groceries.
But in addition to that option, Walmart announced in April that it was working with the USDA to offer contactless-payment SNAP online purchasing in eight states.
“Customers can complete EBT payments during online checkout instead of at the point of pickup,” Walmart said in a statement, noting that the option “eliminates all physical contact between associates and customers.”
It’s not just grocery-delivery firms that are involved in online EBT acceptance. In May, global payments processor and FinTech Fiserv announced it was also taking part in the USDA’s pilot program.
In a statement, the company said it was enabling grocers to accept online EBT payments, allowing many SNAP participants to purchase groceries digitally for the first time.
“Accelerating the acceptance of online EBT payments is one of several initiatives Fiserv is prioritizing to help our clients better serve their customers through digital channels,” Nandan Sheth, Fiserv’s head of global digital commerce, said in announcing the move. “The ability for grocers to enable safe and secure ecommerce, for all of their customer segments, remains critically important to their success.”