Boston expands online ordering for federal food aid program

The grocery store, which also has locations in Cambridge and Dorchester, aims to bring healthy, affordable food to communities most in need. After the pandemic left many SNAP participants unable to shop safely at in-person grocery stores, Daily Table sought federal approval to offer SNAP online. After almost a year and a half of waiting and adapting its website, the Daily Table program has been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“During the pandemic, you’re working, one job, two jobs, three jobs, and trying to get to the grocery store, it’s hard,” said Michael Malmberg, chief operating officer of Daily Table. “So we just wanted to make sure that we democratize that access to e-commerce and delivery that so many other people in upper communities take for granted at this point.”

Nearly one million Massachusetts residents are enrolled in SNAP, a number that has increased more than 20% since before the pandemic, according to Project Bread, a Boston nonprofit that fights food shortages and poverty. hunger.

“We are still in a hunger crisis resulting from the COVID pandemic,” said Erin McAleer, president and CEO of Project Bread. “SNAP is the most effective anti-hunger program we have in our country. This is a program meant to grow during these economic downturns.

Food insecurity hits families with children particularly hard. In December, more than one in five households in Massachusetts struggled to eat. Among Latino households, that number is one in four. And among black households, one in three.

Massachusetts’ efforts to expand SNAP to online shopping began in May 2020, when the program was rolled out to select major grocers, such as Amazon, Stop & Shop and Walmart, amid a broad push to groceries online in the first months of the covid19 pandemic. And since then, some $75 million has been spent.

But these large grocery chains are often not located in low-income neighborhoods where many SNAP recipients live, and the program typically doesn’t cover delivery costs. Smaller, more local stores — like Daily Table — have been hampered by a slow federal approvals process and the challenges of finding an e-commerce platform that meets government standards, McAleer said.

“The sad reality around SNAP is that it has become political fodder and the politicization of the issue has made this program difficult to access,” she said. “But it shouldn’t be that hard. People need to feed themselves and their children, and they have this amazing program that can do that.

Now they will be able to do it at Daily Table, and maybe other stores will like it soon.

Giving SNAP participants the ability to use their EBT card for online ordering at their local grocery store is an important tool for expanding access to healthy, affordable food, Wu said.

“Having one of our own local nonprofits able to provide this service and continue to grow across the city, providing this access to every resident, is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity,” she said. declared.

Using federal coronavirus relief funds, the Wu administration provided a $93,000 grant to Daily Table to cover delivery costs (SNAP benefits can only be used for the food itself, not actual delivery) and promoting SNAP online through advertising and outreach efforts. The length of the program will depend on how the service is used, Malmberg said, and if deliveries spike, Daily Table will look for other ways to bear the costs.

Daily Table is one of nine stores in Boston where residents can use Double Up Food Bucks, a program that gives SNAP participants 50% off fresh fruits and vegetables. As Daily Table is the first local grocer to allow customers to use SNAP benefits online, food access advocates like McAleer say Daily Table’s announcement could bode well for the future. .

“It just takes a while to get federal approval [SNAP online]”, McAleer said. “Hopefully this is a sign that we will see more approvals coming in for more opportunities for people to use SNAP benefits.”

Annie Probert can be reached at [email protected]