A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) pilot program that allows people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase groceries online has improved recipients’ access to healthy food and their ability to social distance, according to a new analysis.
As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened food insecurity nationwide, the USDA expanded the pilot program, called the Online Purchasing Program (OPP), to reach 47 states.
The analysis released February 10, 2021 by unBox—a team of students and recent graduates from across the U.S.—found that despite some technological and other barriers, SNAP beneficiaries rapidly made use of the pilot program when it became available. Many used a high percentage of their monthly benefits for online orders, perhaps opting to buy in bulk to minimize delivery fees, the researchers suggested.
Eric Rimm, professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an adviser to the unBox team, was a co-author of the report.
Noting that participation in OPP has plateaued in some areas, the researchers wrote, “Looking beyond the pandemic, it is important to recognize the impact this program can have on healthy food access (i.e. in rural areas). The USDA and relevant partners should work closely together to ensure that there is longer term program success.”