07.02.20

Durbin, Duckworth Introduce Bill To Implement And Expand Online SNAP Purchasing Nationwide

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today introduced a bill to address hunger needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchasing choices by enabling additional retailers to participate in the program. The Expanding SNAP Options Act would provide funding for the creation of a universal online and app-based portal to make access to nutritious foods from the full variety of SNAP retailers possible and easy to navigate for consumers. Online SNAP purchasing is currently limited to a very small number of approved retailers due to technological and financial barriers, and in many states the only options are Walmart and Amazon. 

“As we face serious hunger needs during the pandemic, and with consumers opting to get groceries delivered to safely avoid crowds at the store, we must expand online SNAP buying. Creating an online portal for more retailers to use will expand access to SNAP benefits and food programs for Americans in need.  This important step will help millions of people safely put food on the table, especially in rural areas and from smaller community retailers,” said Durbin.

“As someone whose family depended on food stamps and reduced-price meals after my father lost his job when I was in high school, I know firsthand just how important access to affordable food can be,” said Duckworth. “Unfortunately—and in the middle of a public health crisis—many Illinois SNAP recipients are shut out of being able to access online shopping options at many supermarkets and grocery stores. I’m proud to introduce legislation with Senator Durbin that will provide grocers of all sizes with the technical assistance needed to ensure all families have the same opportunity to safely purchase groceries online.”

Although some retailers allow SNAP for in-person grocery pickup, options are limited as it requires the grocer to have certain point-of-sale technology available.  Not only do these challenges limit safe food options for SNAP recipients, it also restricts small farmers, independent retailers, and other food providers from the economic benefit of SNAP payments.  In May, the State of Illinois was approved to participate in the USDA’s Online SNAP Purchasing Pilot Program. 

Nearly 40 million Americans, including approximately two million in Illinois, rely on SNAP and that number has dramatically increased in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, as more than 45 million Americans have filed for unemployment.  With stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements, many Americans have turned to grocery store pick-up and delivery services to fulfill their food needs to avoid exposure to other people.  However, Americans relying on SNAP have faced barriers with online and delivery food services.

The Expanding SNAP Options Act would address hunger needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond by doing the following:

  • Require the Secretary of Agriculture to implement online SNAP purchasing in all states;
  • Provide $25 million to develop and maintain a secure, easy-to-use online and app-based portal for EBT redemption to support smaller retailers in offering products for online SNAP purchasing and;
  • Provide $75 million for the creation of a USDA Technical Assistance Center to facilitate online purchasing and use of the portal for smaller retailers, direct-to-consumer farmers, and farmers’ markets, and provide public information about which local vendors participate in SNAP online purchasing.

The legislation has been endorsed by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Food Systems for the Future, Hunger Free America, Shriver Center on Poverty Law, National Grocers Association, Chicago Food Policy Action Council, Farmers Market Coalition, Illinois Stewardship Alliance, Ecological Farming Association, Pinnacle Prevention, Farm Aid, Slow Food USA, John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Sustainable Food Center, Just Food, Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, CDFI Coalition, National Farm to School Network, Reinvestment Fund, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Farmers Market Coalition, National Organic Coalition, Organic Farming Association, Friends of Family Farmers, National Young Farmers Coalition, Midwest Independent Retailers Association, Capital Impact Partners, Heartland Alliance, Chicago Jobs Council, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and Farmer’s Fridge.

U.S. Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL-02) will be introducing a companion bill in the House of Representatives.

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