SNAP online purchasing has come a long way in the last three years.
After a surge of grocers last year received approval from the USDA to allow SNAP participants to make online payments, more retailers continue to gain approval from the agency and consumer adoption of SNAP online purchasing is steadily increasing.
Currently, 49 states and Washington, D.C. allow retailers to sign up to offer SNAP online purchasing. In February, Louisiana allowed Walmart to become the first retailer in the state to offer the capability, and Montana followed suit in April, making it the 49th state to do so.
More than 150 retailer chains have received USDA approval for SNAP online purchasing, a USDA spokesperson said in an email. Grocers that have been accepting Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) payments online for more than a year are seeing, on average, between 5%-15% month-over-month growth in those payments, correlating to more than 60% year-over-year growth, according to data from Fiserv, a financial services technology company and partner of the USDA on SNAP online purchasing.
To understand SNAP’s digital growth, it’s important to first get a sense of the federal program’s overall participation, benefits and how both categories have grown during the pandemic.
The number of households participating in SNAP surged in early 2020 and has remained elevated since
After doubling in May 2021 from pre-COVID-19, monthly SNAP benefits have begun to slowly dip
As SNAP participation surged early in the pandemic, states and agencies scrambled to add online purchasing capabilities for retailers across the country. Between January and December 2020, the number of households using SNAP online grew from 20,000 to 1.4 million, according to USDA data.
As the data below show, SNAP online use has continued to climb.
SNAP online purchasing has doubled since the start of 2021
Innovation with SNAP online shopping
As SNAP online purchasing has gained momentum, retailers and grocers have recently rolled out new digital tools or added the ability to make EBT card payments to broaden how people can shop.
Walmart and Amazon, which both have a massive online reach to SNAP participants, in recent months have added new digital features that make it easier for shoppers to find EBT-eligible products.
The USDA is currently working to stand up a pilot program that will allow SNAP consumers to save their EBT card information on their phones and then have the ability to make mobile purchases while at in-store checkout counters. The department is seeking SNAP state agencies to participate in the pilot.
Continuing to diversify SNAP online
While people paying with their EBT cards now have more retailers to choose from, national retailers and regional chains still dominate the choices for where SNAP participants can shop online.
The number and types of retailers — independents, regional grocers, discounters, clubs and mass merchants — approved to offer SNAP online purchasing varies state by state, and the USDA is pushing for a greater diversity of grocers to have the capability.
The agency is also looking to increase the number and diversity of retailers offering SNAP online purchasing with a $5 million grant, funded by the American Rescue Plan, to give retailers education and technical assistance.
“Expanding the diversity of our online shopping retailers is a critical component of our nutrition security goal to provide better access to healthy, safe, affordable foods,” said Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at USDA, said in a statement last month.