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Washington Boosts Access to Grocery Delivery for SNAP Recipients

PULLMAN – A pilot project in Washington to make online grocery buying more widely available to SNAP recipients is already near its goal, buoyed in part by pandemic shutdowns.  

But though nearly 80% of beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — previously known as food stamps — have access to online grocery buying and delivery in the state, those services are concentrated in urban areas, a new study by WSU College of Nursing PhD student Shawna Beese found. 

The study, “Expansion of Grocery Delivery and Access for Washington SNAP Participants During the COVID‑19 Pandemic,” was published recently in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s peer-reviewed “Preventing Chronic Disease.” Beese’s co‑authors are from the WSU colleges of nursing and medicine and WSU Extension.  

The pilot was called for in the 2014 federal Farm Bill. The thought was that being able to buy groceries online for delivery could help people who don’t have reliable access to fresh, nutritious foods or who have mobility or transportation challenges. 

Washington was one of several states to launch pilot programs under that mandate, which had already begun when the COVID‑19 pandemic hit.  

As more people began cooking at home, and more people turned to online shopping, big retailers stepped up their investments in infrastructure necessary for online grocery shopping and home delivery, the study says.  

The Farm Bill mandated that online grocery shopping be made available to 80% of SNAP beneficiaries in states taking part in the pilot program. As of mid‑2021, 79.4% of Washington SNAP beneficiaries had that access, Beese and her co‑investigators found.  

However, “they’re all centered around big population centers,” she said in an interview. “Even though it’s 80% by the numbers, there are huge regions of the state absolutely untouched.”  

SNAP recipients in 21 of Washington’s 39 counties didn’t have access to home grocery delivery, while access in King County neared 100%.  

The study notes that high‑speed Internet service and a lack of home computers are potential barriers to making online grocery ordering and delivery more widely available to SNAP recipients in the state. It also suggests that further action could involve partnerships with farmers’ co‑ops and regional grocery outlets to fill delivery needs for rural areas.  

Read more: “Expansion of Grocery Delivery and Access for Washington SNAP Participants During the COVID‑19 Pandemic,” Preventing Chronic Disease, by Shawna Beese, MBA, BSN, RN; Ofer Amran, PhD, MSc; Acacia Corylus, MPH, RD; Janessa M. Graves, PhD, MPH; Julie Postma, PhD, RN; Pablo Monsivais, PhD, MPH.