Federal food aid programs are scrambling to keep up with online grocery shopping as a result of the pandemic.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the main food stamp program’s name — launched online shopping before the pandemic and is now available in nearly every state.
WIC, the acronym for women, babies, and children, hasn’t had that problem. WIC is a comparable program that rewards mothers and children for eating nutritious foods including milk, fruits, and vegetables.
The US Department of Agriculture launched a trial program for WIC online purchasing late last year in a few areas. To learn more about the National WIC Association’s work, I chatted with Brian Dittmeier, the organization’s senior director of public policy.
However, he stated that it will be years before the program is rolled out across the country. This is an edited version of what we discussed.
Mr. Brian Dittmeier, thanks for your time. Shoppers who use WIC should be able to conduct their purchases in a manner that is consistent with both SNAP and regular buying practices.
Commercial platforms have been around for a long time, and they’re still going strong. As a result, we’ve been able to place supermarket orders, conduct transactions online, and have our groceries delivered to our doorsteps.
There should be a WIC option for all of these alternatives as well.
In the wake of the SNAP rollout, what are WIC’s greatest takeaways and how are they being incorporated into the program?
Dittmeier: WIC participants can only buy certain goods at the end of the month. It’s also possible to encounter a variety of complications during the fulfillment procedure.
To clarify, what occurs in the event of substitutions, and how is this resolved and reconciled with the amount of credit remaining on the benefit card?
What WIC providers need to look at is the ability to put a hold on benefits that have been ordered but haven’t yet been fulfilled and distributed.
For low-income WIC participants, particularly those who live in rural and distant locations, we’re focusing on the accessibility and utilization of these platforms.
And we know that people are less likely to use online solutions if they have to pay for home delivery.
Carino McCarty WIC food items typically have minimum inventory requirements. States, on the other hand, maybe able to waive them in the early stages of the pandemic.
Clearly, there were numerous difficulties with the supply chain. There are still some of them, to a degree. Also, we’ve heard that ordering products online is still an issue for some customers. Is there a technological solution to this?
Dittmeier: It will, to some extent. Many of the drawbacks of in-person WIC buying will be alleviated with the advent of online shopping platforms. WIC-approved products can be found by searching for them or by seeing virtual shelf tags that say so.
However, we must keep in mind the independent grocers and the tiny grocers that service isolated and rural areas when we talk about this issue. The USDA’s advice and support in scaling up and disseminating solutions across retailers would be crucial.
Carino McCarty So far, we’ve discussed the possibility for WIC users to purchase groceries directly from retailers via the internet. Delivery services like Instacart can be used with SNAP. Is WIC considering this?
Dittmeier: That conversation is definitely going on. Third-party shopping businesses can begin interacting with WIC, but there are a few issues to be worked out first.
First, WIC is a nutrition program that provides participants with particular nutrient-dense foods.
That’s why proper controls are needed to ensure that any third-party shopping platform that’s trying to enter the WIC market is adhering to the WIC benefit’s integrity and isn’t attempting to sell items that aren’t eligible for WIC.
Brian Dittmeier attended a virtual meeting with fellow WIC officials and activists this year in which they discussed internet buying.
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As a result of the fact that home broadband access can be inconsistent in many rural and low-income locations, Grocery Dive, a trade newsletter, detailed many of the concepts they explored.
Customers who don’t have internet-connected devices may need to be able to place orders over the phone or in other non-English language versions of the retailer’s website.
The USDA and the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition are conducting a pilot initiative together.
Select Walmart stores in Washington and Massachusetts, Save Mart in Nevada, Hy-Vee grocery stores in Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska, and Buche Foods in South Dakota are now or will soon be offering online purchasing options.
During the darkest days of the pandemic, food insecurity was of course a major issue, as unemployment rose and we saw the long queues at food banks.
As a result of the pandemic, the economy is doing much better, with unemployment rates close to their pre-pandemic levels.
Food insecurity is on the rise again as pandemic relief programs cease and food prices continue to rise, according to the Washington Post, which writes.