Published: July 2021

Publisher: Healthy Eating Research

Authors: Moran A, Headrick G, Khandpur N

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The USDA Online Purchasing Pilot, which allows SNAP participants to shop and pay for groceries online, rapidly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. From March 2020 to March 2021, the number of participating states increased from 5 to 47. This brief assesses whether the Pilot promotes healthy food access (using the criteria of availability and utilization) and nutrition security, including household food security and healthy dietary behaviors. The findings show that the Pilot is not currently meeting these aims equitably. Availability of stores participating in the Pilot is still lacking, particularly in rural food desert areas and in communities reliant on small, independent grocers. Despite increased retailer participation in the Pilot, and growing acceptability and utilization of online food purchasing, there are many personal, structural, and financial barriers that make further adoption challenging. The brief offers recommendations to promote a more equitable expansion of the program. Policies that: (1) provide technical and financial assistance so that local retailers and producers can participate in the Pilot; (2) support utilization among SNAP participants through structural changes; and (3) strengthen and enforce requirements for authorized retailers can overcome current limitations and help ensure healthy food access for all SNAP participants.

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