Amazon is one of seven grocery companies that will be participating in a new online food stamp program beginning this summer.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in a press release on Jan. 5 that its two-year pilot program will test online purchasing of food items via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Iowa, and Oregon.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the news release: "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."
While 43 million food stamp recipients are low-income Americans (about half are children), Amazon is pushing its $99 Prime membership program as a monthly $10.99 payment plan for these folks, notes CBS News.
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The seven participating states will be split up among online retailers Amazon, FreshDirect, Safeway, ShopRite, Hy-Vee, Hart’s Local Grocers and Dash’s Market.
Walmart is not part of the program, but told CBS News that it hopes to be: "We look forward to working with FNS [USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service] as they continue to explore this opportunity. We’ve expanded our highly popular online grocery service from 5 markets to more than 100 markets over the past 18 months in both large and small communities across the country."
Amazon expressed its joy in joining the multi-billion dollar market: "Amazon is excited to participate in the USDA SNAP online purchasing pilot. We are committed to making food accessible through online grocery shopping, offering all customers the lowest prices possible. Amazon’s selection and competitive pricing can improve the grocery shopping experience for SNAP participants while helping them extend their benefits further."
A recently-released report by the USDA found that the most popular purchases in the $74 billion food stamp program are "sweetened beverages" such as sodas, energy drinks, sweet teas and fruit drinks, noted The New York Times.
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"In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry," Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, told the newspaper. "It’s pretty shocking."