The program will be expanded to include a handful of other states. It could give Amazon a bigger shot at a lucrative $65 billion market now dominated by supermarkets and superstores such as Walmart.
The pilot program could benefit recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who may have trouble getting fresh food from brick-and-mortar stores. About 20% of SNAP participants are either elderly or disabled and face challenges getting healthy food from grocery stores, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program.
“People who receive SNAP benefits should have the opportunity to shop for food the same way more and more Americans shop for food — by ordering and paying for groceries online,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance, too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients.”
The government’s pilot program will focus initially on the Empire State, before expanding to Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington in coming years, according to USDA.
Overall, SNAP received more than $65 billion in government funding last year and helped some 40 million people. In New York state alone, nearly 3 million people participate in the program, or about 13% of the state’s total population, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Participants in the pilot program won’t be allowed to use their food stamp benefits to pay for service or delivery fees.
Amazon is allowing SNAP participants to obtain free delivery on AmazonFresh orders on purchases $50 or more or to place smaller orders and pay under $10 for shipping. Also, to get free delivery on Prime Pantry orders, the online giant requires purchases of $35 or more or the option of $5.99 shipping for smaller orders.
Regardless, food stamp recipients won’t need to pay for a Prime membership to use their benefits on Amazon as part of the pilot.
“As we expand participating areas throughout the life of the pilot, Amazon believes the program will dramatically increase access to food for more remote customers and help to mitigate the public health crisis of food deserts,” Kristina Herrmann, an Amazon director in charge of the company’s participation in the USDA pilot, wrote in a blog last week.