Pa. and N.J. residents can soon buy groceries online with food stamps

ShopRite is a retailer in a U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot program to let SNAP beneficiaries buy groceries online.

Under a soon-to-start pilot program, food stamp recipients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be able to buy groceries online from Amazon and ShopRite.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the two-year test program, which rolls out this summer, is meant to increase access to healthy foods.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants in New Jersey will be able to order food from Amazon and ShopRite. Pennsylvania SNAP recipients can order from ShopRite only.

"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," Agriculture 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."

The department said SNAP recipients will only be able to use to their benefits to pay for groceries only, not shipping, delivery or service charges.

There are about 950,000 households in Pennsylvania and 425,000 in New Jersey receiving food stamps, according to the department's most recent figures.

Amazon will also let Maryland and New York SNAP recipients order groceries online. Maryland participants will also be able to order from ShopRite. Retailers participating in other states are FreshDirect (New York), Safeway (Maryland, Oregon, Washington), Hy-Vee (Iowa), Hart's Local Grocers (New York) and Dash' Market (New York).

Officials hope to expand the online SNAP program nationwide as technical and security issues get examined and addressed, according to the Agriculture Department.

In addition to those challenges, there are other hurdles for the online SNAP program. Poor families are significantly more likely to lack Internet access than wealthy ones. While nearly all households with annual incomes above $50,000 use the Internet, a quarter of houeholds making less than $30,000 per year are not online, according to Pew data

Because of delivery costs and service fees, SNAP users will need multiple forms of payment to complete an order, further complicating their purchases, The Atlantic notes. And package theft is a not-uncommon problem on Philadelphia stoops; some SNAP recipients may not want to risk having their groceries stolen.