MORRISTOWN, NJ  - As food prices continue to rise, it’s becoming more and more difficult to sustain a healthy diet. To offset the increasing food costs, some people have turned to SNAP benefits. SNAP, the supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program gives assistance to those in need.  The program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was designed to help low income individuals and families meet their nutritional needs.

In 2015, Grow it Green Morristown was approved to accept SNAP benefits as payment. This year,  the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the seven retail firms have been selected to take part in a pilot program designed to enable SNAP participants to purchase their groceries online. The two-year pilot is slated to begin the summer of 2017.

"Online purchasing is a potential lifeline for SNAP participants living in urban neighborhoods and rural communities where access to healthy food choices can be limited," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "We're looking forward to being able to bring the benefits of the online market to low-income Americans participating in SNAP."

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ShopRite which has stores in Morristown and throughout New Jersey is one of the firms selected to participate in this on-line pilot program. The other six stores include Amazon which will participate in New Jersey, Maryland and New York; FreshDirect in New York; Safeway in Maryland, Oregon and Washington; Hy-Vee Inc in Iowa; Hart's Local Grocers in New York, Dash's Market in New York

"ShopRite is a leading market retailer, both in-store and with our online shopping service ShopRite from Home" said Karen O'Shea, corporate communications for ShopRite.  "We have been selected to participate in the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online purchasing pilot, and support their goal of increasing online access to healthy, fresh food. The pilot program is still in its early stages, and we look forward to taking part in its development."

The firms selected represent a variety of store types, including national online retailers as well as large grocery chains and smaller, regional networks to appropriately test online SNAP purchasing in different settings. Pilots will take place in seven states in both rural and urban areas, marking the next critical step in bringing the online purchasing option to SNAP clients.

While USDA has authorized SNAP online grocery ordering in a few locations, this pilot will test both online ordering and payment. Online payment presents technical and security challenges that will need to be examined and fully addressed before it is offered nationwide. As with the core program, SNAP participants will only be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible items online – not to pay for service or delivery charges. USDA is committed to maintaining the security of SNAP benefits for both the protection of SNAP participant accounts and to prevent and detect trafficking, so SNAP online purchases must have a higher level of security than most other online purchases.

The goal, according to the USDA, is for this to be a national option for SNAP participants.

As the nation's first line of defense against hunger, SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month and has never been more critical to the fight against hunger. SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budget of more than 43 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are over 60 and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.