By: Hannah Walker, Vice President, Political Affairs, FMI 

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Updated: April 13, 2020

The headline question has been asked countless times the past few weeks, and rightfully so! Our country is facing a pandemic like none of us have experienced before and hopefully never will again. Families are being asked to stay at home and limit their excursions to what is deemed essential. Grocers also see a marked increase in online food sales with models like home delivery or pick-up. This process works well for those families paying with either credit or debit card, or with online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that are currently in very limited areas. The interest in online SNAP sales has expanded as grocers work to continue serving all their customers during this crucial time. 

Then and Now: Online SNAP Pilot 

The idea of an online SNAP program began when the 2014 Farm Bill directed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a pilot where SNAP customers could order and pay for groceries online for home delivery or curbside pickup. The pilot went live last spring in select New York neighborhoods. Over the past year, the pilot has expanded to other parts of New York, Washington, Oregon, Alabama, Iowa and Nebraska.   

When Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, it granted USDA the authority to roll out SNAP online purchasing nationwide if it found the pilot a success. Even in 2018, we thought Congress’ authorization of the pilot was prudent. Now in 2020, and in a world responding to a pandemic outbreak that has created an urgent need for online grocery shopping, families that rely on SNAP cannot wait another four or five years for online SNAP to come to their community.   

What FMI is doing to move the needle 

We continue to work closely with USDA to seek ways to quickly expand online SNAP to include additional retailers and reach beyond a handful of states. USDA has announced California, Arizona, Idaho and Florida have been approved to move forward with online SNAP sales and will go live in the coming weeks. 

While things are picking up speed, we also know more must be done. As the agency authorizes more states to rollout SNAP online, we also must ensure they allow any SNAP retailers meeting the requirements to participate in online SNAP. 

In response to growing demand, FNS released additional guidance on April 13 for retailers who would like to become authorized online SNAP retailers. The FNS retailer “roadmap” to online SNAP authorization can be accessed here. 

What food retailers can do 

EBT processors like FIS and Conduent appear to be at different stages of the process with various states. So, it can't hurt to reach out to your state’s SNAP office, regardless of whether FIS or Conduent service your state, to ask about the process and your involvement.  

Interested retailers should review both the newly released guidance from FNS and the 2016 Request for Volunteers.  The recently released FNS guidance outlines requirements for retailer’s including website features that will allow for:  

a. Integration of the secure online PIN-entry via the Third Party Processor (TPP) Application Programming Interface (API).

b. Error Handling – includes messaging displayed to customer as appropriate to the situation.

c. Matching refunds back to the original purchase.

d. Handling of estimated pricing for items that are variably priced based on weight.

e. Having only one SNAP card provisioned to a customer account.

f. Ensuring only eligible foods can be purchased with SNAP benefits.

g. Not charging sales tax on SNAP purchases.

h. Allowing split tender transactions for the payment of non-SNAP eligible items and delivery fees.

i. Meeting additional requirements found in the Online Purchasing Request for Volunteers (see Sections 2.4 and 2.5).  

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Well, in this case we have the invention, we just need to use it to ensure we leave no customer unfed or unserved at this critical time. FMI will continue to push for a national SNAP online rollout open to all eligible SNAP retailers.  

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