The food stamp program in the U.S. has made it possible for millions of Americans dealing with economic hardship to feed their families each day.
While food stamps, now officially called SNAP benefits, can help families save money on food, it hasn’t always been the most convenient way to shop for groceries. In the past, food stamp recipients needed to physically go into a store to shop for and pay for their groceries using a special (EBT) payment card.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has expanded an online purchasing pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online then arrange for pickup or delivery. The program is now available at certain retailers in most states.
Read on to learn where and how you can use food stamps to buy groceries online.
What Are Food Stamps?
“Food stamps” is an older, but still commonly used term to describe SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
SNAP is designed to provide nutritional assistance to low-income families, as well as the elderly, disabled, and people who have filed for unemployment. SNAP is a federal program administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which has a network of local offices.
While SNAP doesn’t cover all the items you might pick up at the supermarket, it can significantly cut your grocery bill.
You can use food stamps to purchase meat, poultry, and fish; vegetables and fruit; bread and cereal; dairy products; snack food; and seeds and plants that produce food. However, you can’t use them to purchase tobacco, wine, beer, liquor, vitamins, prepared food, and nonfood items like cosmetics, hygiene items, and cleaning supplies.
Everyone on food stamps has a bank card called an EBT card, backed by the government. The program allows for customers to pay in-store–and increasingly, online–using their EBT just like a debit or credit card.
The maximum monthly food-stamp assistance you can get varies by where you live and how many people are in your household. A family of four living in the U.S. can now receive around $780 a month.
Who Qualifies for Food Stamps?
A household is eligible for Food Stamps, or SNAP, when it meets specific criteria. Each state has an income limit that SNAP households must stay under. Additionally, they may factor in your finances and savings to determine your eligibility.
To apply for food stamp benefits, or to get information about the SNAP program in your area, you can contact your local SNAP office. You can find local offices and each State’s application on the USDA national map .
Each state has its own application form. If your state’s form is not on the web yet, you can contact your local SNAP office to request a paper form.
What Stores Accept Food Stamps Online?
Thanks to the expedited expansion of an online purchasing pilot program run by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, households receiving SNAP benefits in any of the 47 participating states (along with the District of Columbia) can now use EBT to pay for groceries online from select retailers.
Alaska, Louisiana, and Montana are not currently enrolled in the pilot. And, not every retailer in participating states supports EBT payments.
If a retailer is enrolled in SNAP’s online program, people on food stamps can select foods eligible for EBT benefits online and then arrange for in-store or curbside pickup. In some cases, it may be possible to have your groceries delivered. If the retailer charges a delivery fee, however, you cannot use your benefits to cover that fee.
While Amazon and Walmart are among the best known retailers for online EBT shopping, the number of stores accepting EBT card payment online is continuing to expand, and now even includes some “specialty” stores like Trader Joe’s.
FreshDirect, an online grocery delivery service, now delivers for free to SNAP participants in some zip codes in the New York metropolitan area.
And, Instacart, a grocery delivery service, is currently partnering with many local stores in the U.S. to offer SNAP EBT benefits. The latest version of the Instacart app should display whether your local store offers EBT SNAP.
Which retailers (and which specific locations) participate in the online SNAP program will vary from one state to another, so it’s a wise idea to check which options are available in your area.
Here are some of the retailers that are now accepting food stamps for online shopping (for either delivery or pickup):
• Food Lion
• BJ’S Wholesale Club
• Fred Meyer
How to Use Food Stamps to Buy Groceries Online
The rules for using food stamps online will vary by retailer. For example, when shopping on Amazon, you can add your SNAP EBT card, shop for groceries, and when you check out, you enter your EBT PIN to pay for eligible purchases.
For Walmart, you can order groceries online or through the store’s grocery mobile app. You first need to sign into your Pickup & Delivery account and then select Payment Methods.
If your local store accepts EBT Online, you’ll see an option to add your EBT card to your account and can then add your card. During checkout, you select EBT as your payment method. You can then enter your PIN and complete your order.
At ShopRite, you can order groceries online at Shoprite.com or via the store’s mobile app. During checkout, you can select Pay Online and then click the Place Order button. You can then choose the EBT Snap Card as the payment method to complete checkout.
At some retailers, you can also include non-SNAP items in the same order, but you’d need to pay for them separately with a debit or credit card. If the store charges a delivery fee, that charge would also need to be paid via a separate payment card since service fees are not included in SNAP benefits.
If you don’t find EBT SNAP as a payment option when attempting to order from your preferred grocery store, you may want to keep checking back — the coverage areas and list of participating stores continue to expand.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–better known as food stamps–provides assistance to low-income people in the form of an EBT card that can be used to purchase certain types of food.
Many national retailers and supermarket chains now allow SNAP recipients to order eligible groceries online and then go into the store to pick them up, either in-store or curbside, or have them delivered.
Ordering groceries online using the SNAP program is usually as simple as selecting EBT SNAP as your payment method and then inputting your PIN. Some retailers may also want to scan your card in person when you pick up your order or at the time of delivery.
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Photo credit: iStock/Yana Tatevosian
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