An unidentifiable person looks in a refrigerator while placing an order on their phone. Online ordering with SNAP benefits is now available at many online retailers.

Here at the Vermont Foodbank, we spoke with one SNAP recipient, Emma, about her experience shopping with her benefits online and utilizing home delivery.

“The pandemic, as well as being homebound, has made the online ordering of groceries, with SNAP, an essential way for me to order food,” explained Emma. “Transportation is an issue for me in getting to and from the grocery store so the ability to order groceries online is crucial to me getting groceries and other life essentials…we haven’t had reliable public transportation here in over three years.”

For many people in Vermont, this is a familiar situation: getting to a store to buy groceries can be difficult. The rural nature of Vermont means brick-and-mortar grocery stores can be far away and public transportation in the state is minimal. In addition, cars and their associated costs (insurance, maintenance, fuel) can also be a barrier to getting to the store. And, for people with limited physical mobility or health concerns such as COVID-19 exposure, a trip to the store can be even more difficult.

SNAP benefits (short for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called 3SquaresVT in Vermont) help income-eligible people purchase groceries and come on a plastic card called an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. Increasingly, there are more online ordering options you can use to shop with your SNAP benefits/EBT card, and home delivery is often available.

Emma reached out to the Foodbank to share her excitement and to make sure we knew about an online ordering platform that just started accepting SNAP. The platform is called Thrive Market and Thrive has been working for years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to become authorized to accept SNAP benefits. It is important for Emma to be able to purchase food online for home delivery and she explained that, “being homebound, getting foods that I want and enjoy online with SNAP has been difficult given the limited options of purchasing food from online retailers.”

Emma is particularly excited about Thrive now accepting SNAP benefits because “the food options with Thrive are a lot more healthy food options (think shopping at a Co-op) than at say Walmart or Amazon.” And, she explained that if you are shopping from Thrive with an EBT card you can apply for a free membership.

Some other online retailers that are currently able to process EBT card transactions are Walmart®, Amazon, and Instacart. Emma shared a wealth of information about ordering groceries online from these different platforms.

“Walmart just recently, in the past few months, allowed for home delivery of groceries with SNAP. That’s been a game changer but also costs $6.87/month subscription plus driver tip. Instacart is similar and I don’t use it anymore because of the monthly subscription fee. I used Instacart for home delivery through most of the pandemic…Amazon also accepts EBT, without a monthly fee, but the grocery offerings are shelf-stable foods and they don’t have the healthiest choices on their website. Walmart is a little less expensive than Instacart per month and I have recently started using that now that they deliver groceries, produce, etc. …because other than Instacart, it’s the only way to get fresh produce and the like delivered.”

Emma provided the additional tip that “Amazon only lets you use EBT for an EBT order so you can’t order more than what’s available in SNAP dollars. For example, now that I get $23.00/month in SNAP Amazon is a no-go if I want to use free shipping from Amazon. Meaning, you can’t pay for anything over your SNAP benefit with another card.”

At the Foodbank, we are aware of the need to increase options for online retailers that accept SNAP benefits and for them to offer affordable, creative, and flexible delivery/distribution/pick-up options. We will continue to engage in critical conversations with local, state, and national stakeholders who are involved in the processes and policies that can shift to increase the number of retailers accepting SNAP benefits online.

For example, there are growing opportunities to shop online with SNAP from local farmers. GrownBy is an online sales platform that is a farmer-owned cooperative. Farms can use it to run online transactions. The GrownBy cooperative is the first online shopping platform designed for farmers to be able to process EBT transactions; check out this link to learn more. A Vermont farm, Footprint Farm in Starksboro, uses GrownBy and accepts SNAP benefits online as a form of payment for their CSA farm shares.

The landscape of online SNAP retailers is ever-changing. Do you know of another platform that can accept SNAP benefits? What works well, or could work better, with the current options you are using to shop online with SNAP? What online platforms do you wish accepted benefits but currently don’t? What types of food sellers or producers do you prefer to shop from when possible? And, for people who are producing or selling food, what obstacles are you encountering when you work toward accepting SNAP benefits online? We welcome information and expertise from shoppers, online grocers, and food producers. The food system is complex—by working together and communicating about logistical barriers, as well as our collective hopes and dreams, we can increase ease of access to nourishing food.

And of course, the first step to shopping online with SNAP is to apply for benefits. If you would like to learn more or would like help applying, contact our SNAP/3SquaresVT team: call us at (855) 855-6181, text VFBSNAP to 85511, or email 3svt@vtfoodbank.org. Learn more about 3SquaresVT.