Friday, January 6, 2017

NY Joins Using Food Stamps to Buy Food Online

New Yorkers can use their benefits to buy groceries from FreshDirect and Amazon.

The Obama Administration announced Thursday that New York would be included in a program that lets Food-Stamp recipients use their benefits to buy groceries online.

FreshDirect and Amazon were the only two downstate internet grocers tapped by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to participate. A vendor in Buffalo and another in Rochester were also chosen.

The new policy will cost supermarkets some sales, and one industry representative said it could even help drive some out of business, which would make it harder for consumers to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, the very goal of the program.

"With supermarkets disappearing from neighborhoods in all five boroughs, this pilot program will only accelerate the trend," New York Association of Grocery Stores spokesman Brad Gerstman said in a statement. "It will also greatly disadvantage seniors in particular that have less access and skills to use the internet. In general, access to fresh fruits and vegetables will be restricted by this ill-conceived idea."

There has been a shift in the City's supermarket industry, with an increase in the number of high-end grocers including Whole Foods. It is unclear, however, whether the number of supermarkets Citywide is declining. Supermarkets have benefited from the City's improving economy, population gains, and an increase in the number of food-stamp recipients over the last eight years, which has provided an additional revenue source for grocers.

Amazon and FreshDirect worked closely with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to bring the pilot program to New York, according to Diaz's office. FreshDirect launched a similar program in the Bronx in 2012.

FreshDirect cheered the expansion of food stamps, the unofficial name for benefits in the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

"We believe that fresh, high-quality and healthful food options should be accessible to all," a FreshDirect statement said. "We look forward to bringing the online purchasing option to SNAP clients."

Diaz said in a statement that New York would "set the example for the entire nation on public/private partnerships that improve nutrition, fight hunger and offer consumers greater choices, all while expanding the marketplace."

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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