Reps. urge feds to select N.Y. for pilot project to allow food stamps online

As the federal government looks to outfit five retailers in three states with equipment allowing them to accept food stamps online, nine members of New York’s congressional delegation urged Washington, D.C., to consider the Empire State for the pilot project.

In a letter sent last month to Tom Vilsack, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the members of Congress said New York would be an ideal location for the pilot project because many residents use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – colloquially referred to as food stamps. They noted that Manhattan has one of the largest income disparities in the country, so purchasing groceries online could help those living in poverty among higher-income residents who frequent more expensive stores. Additionally, it could help people living in food deserts upstate, the letter said.

The Department of Agriculture announced in September that it would select five companies in three states for the two-year pilot program. The government anticipates reviewing applications and making its selection by the end of 2016, with the pilot program beginning this summer. 

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. previously wrote a letter to Vilsack noting that the Bronx had benefited from a “demonstration project” with FreshDirect that allowed Bronxites to use food stamps through an online portal. Diaz said the Congress members’ support showed how important it was to expand the use of online technology.

“The ability to use (electronic benefit transfers/SNAP) benefits online can help to both eliminate food deserts and offer consumers greater choice, especially those consumers who are homebound,” Diaz said in a statement. “I am greatly appreciative that so many of our state’s Congressional delegation agree. This widespread support shows just how meaningful this initiative could be, and it is incumbent on the USDA to select New York as a participant in this pilot program.”

 The letter sent to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: