Dems urge USDA to allow online food stamp purchases

Dems urge USDA to allow online food stamp purchases

Democrats are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make it easier for low-income people to buy healthier foods by allowing them to use their food stamps online.

Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Reps. Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Barbara Lee (Calif.) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom VilsackThomas James VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE on Monday urging him to expedite the department’s plan to open online purchasing to those who use food stamps, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

“We know that technological advancements over the last 10 years, like the proliferation of smartphones, have dramatically increased access to the Internet throughout our country,” their letter said.

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“Unfortunately, many of our governmental policies and programs have not kept pace with the dramatic improvement in healthy food access that technology offers.”

In a blog post in August, the USDA said it is required under the 2014 Farm Bill to test the feasibility of online transactions and, based on those results, make a decision about allowing online purchases nationwide. 

The agency said its Food and Nutrition Service “has been laying the groundwork to put together the complex technical infrastructure required for these demonstrations.”

With 70 percent of American adults overweight, 26 million diabetic and 79 million pre-diabetic, the lawmakers said it’s imperative for all Americans to be able to access nutritious and affordable food, especially the 44 million people receiving SNAP benefits.

“As you know, individuals and their families who rely on SNAP are more likely to reside in food deserts, have lower nutrition education and live in poverty,” they said in the letter.

“That is why it is vital that our nation commits to reducing hunger and bolstering nutrition through improvements to SNAP, such as online transactions.”

Unlike other online electric financial transactions, the USDA said SNAP debit transactions require the customer enter a secure PIN, and there is only one company that provides an industry-tested and approved secure PIN system. The agency said it’s also struggling to establish an online purchase system that works with individual state systems.