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The U.S. Department of Agriculture is gearing up for a pilot test enabling Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users to get their groceries online.
Online delivery services like Peapod, FreshDirect and Thrive Market are said to be on board to help the agency test the idea, according to The Washington Post, which said the USDA will implement it nationwide if the pilot is deemed a success.
Although the program could raise fraud concerns, a USDA representative said the agency will "certainly be looking at this closely as we engage in the pilots to make sure clients are not exposed to greater risks through these systems, including, for example, stolen benefits." Proper technology to ensure process integrity will also be a major factor, the rep added, "as few companies have developed the correct encrypted PIN capabilities."
The USDA originally announced the pilot in February, when it called for "governmental or nonprofit food delivery firms to become SNAP-authorized retailers for one year for a nationwide pilot designed to improve grocery access for homebound elderly and disabled participants in the SNAP program."
Up to 20 food purchasing and delivery services will be selected for the test program, which is being implemented with guidance in the 2014 Farm Bill, which expanded the definition of “retail food store” to include governmental or private nonprofit food purchasing and delivery services that purchase and deliver food to the homebound elderly or disabled.
According to the USDA, "Lessons learned during the pilot will help shape guidance issued, with final regulations now in development that for the first time will permit governmental and nonprofit food grocery purchasing and delivery services to accept SNAP benefits as payment, thus increasing the opportunities for home delivery to those unable to shop for food."
“Expanding access to home delivery will help ensure that homebound elderly and disabled SNAP participants have access to healthy foods,” said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon, noting that nearly one in five SNAP participants is either elderly or disabled.
Despite those statistics, Concannon said that only 41 percent of eligible elderly individuals participate in SNAP, compared to 85 percent for all people who are eligible.
Home delivery is particularly important for seniors living in rural areas, because America's rural population is older than the nation overall, and rural seniors experience higher poverty than seniors nationwide, he noted.
The request for volunteers complements a proposed rule published last July as part of USDA’s efforts to support older Americans.