Pilot program: Amazon.com 1 of 7 online retailers where shoppers will be able to use food stamps

The logo of US online retail giant Amazon is displayed on the Brieselang logistics center, west of Berlin on November 11, 2014. The center is one of nine in Germany. AFP PHOTO / JOHN MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced seven retail firms selected to take part in a pilot designed to enable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) recipients to purchase their groceries online — and Amazon.com is one of them!

The two-year pilot is slated to begin this summer.

“Online purchasing is a potential lifeline for SNAP participants living in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where access to healthy food choices can be limited,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP.”

Firms selected include:

RetailersPilot States*

Amazon – Maryland, New Jersey, New York

FreshDirect – New York

Safeway – Maryland, Oregon, Washington,

ShopRite – Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

Hy-Vee, Inc. – Iowa

Hart’s Local Grocers – New York (based in Rochester)

Dash’s Market – New York (based in Buffalo)

According to a statement from the USDA, the firms selected represent a variety of store types, including national online retailers as well as large grocery chains and smaller, regional networks to appropriately test online SNAP purchasing in different settings.

Pilots will take place in seven states in both rural and urban areas, marking the next critical step in bringing the online purchasing option to SNAP clients.

While USDA has authorized SNAP online grocery ordering in a few locations, this pilot will test both online ordering and payment. Online payment presents technical and security challenges that will need to be examined and fully addressed before it is offered nationwide. As with the core program, SNAP participants will only be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible items online – not to pay for service or delivery charges.

USDA officials said in the statement they’re committed to maintaining the security of SNAP benefits for both the protection of SNAP participant accounts and to prevent and detect trafficking, so SNAP online purchases must have a higher level of security than most other online purchases.

As the pilot proceeds and USDA confirms the system is operating as required, additional retailers will be added.

Eventually, the goal is for this to be a national option for SNAP participants, once the pilot phase is complete and USDA can incorporate lessons learned into program rules.

According to the statement, the USDA has taken many steps in the last several years to strengthen SNAP and increase access to healthy foods.

Recently, USDA announced a purchase and delivery pilot, which is designed for non-profits and government entities to improve access to groceries solely for homebound elderly and disabled SNAP participants.

USDA also provided funding to incentivize participants in SNAP to purchase more healthy fruits and vegetables through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, increased farmers market participation in SNAP to improve access to fresh and nutritious food, and announced final changes to increase access to healthy food choices for SNAP participants by requiring authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options.

As the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month and has never been more critical to the fight against hunger, USDA officials said.

SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budget of more than 43 million low-income individuals.

Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are over 60 and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.