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), along with nine of their Senate colleagues, 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. 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—leaving out smaller and independent grocers, local growers and farmers markets, and other specialty neighborhood retailers. The bill also provides funding for a USDA Technical Assistance Center to help smaller retailers in carrying out an online platform.

“Expanding online options to more retailers will increase access to SNAP benefits and food programs for Americans in need. In Illinois, we know this will help people get groceries safely through delivery and avoid crowds at stores. This bill 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, many Illinois SNAP recipients are shut out of being able to access online shopping options at many supermarkets and grocery stores, even during a deadly global pandemic. I’m proud to re-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.”

“With the support of Senators Durbin and Duckworth, my administration acted early to secure USDA approval for giving Illinois SNAP recipients the option to shop safely online at major retailers during the pandemic,” said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. “The percentage of SNAP transactions done online has nearly doubled since Illinois launched this now-permanent program – but we can and should do more. The Expanding SNAP Options Act ensures that all Americans have access to the convenience and safety of online ordering while also bringing small markets, mom-and-pop shops and local farmers into the fold. It’s the responsibility of government to make our residents’ lives a little easier every way we can, and I’m proud to support this legislation that will increase equity and choice in quality food access for all.” 

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 of 2020, the State of Illinois was approved to participate in the USDA’s Online SNAP Purchasing Pilot Program.  

Nearly 50 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 nearly 18 million Americans are now claiming some form of unemployment benefit.  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 and void 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, Slow Food USA, John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Sustainable Food Center, Coastal Enterprises Inc, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, CDFI Coalition, Reinvestment Fund, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Farmers Market Association, Experimental Station, Farm to Table, National Organic Coalition, Organic Farming Association, Friends of Family Farmers, National Young Farmers Coalition.

Along with Durbin and Duckworth, the legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). 

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