Food Deserts

Shoppers search for items on their grocery lists at Brown's Super Stores ShopRite store at Bakers Centre in North Philadelphia, Thursday Oct. 13, 2016. The store opened recently after a 20-year food desert in this neighborhood. (Michael Ein/Staff Photographer)

Grocery shopping may become a little easier this summer for New Jersey residents using food stamps.

New Jersey was one of seven states chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to participate in a two-year online purchasing pilot program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients. The pilot program will enable food stamps to be used for online grocery purchases for the first time.

“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,” Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, said in a statement last week.

New Jersey SNAP recipients will be able to use food stamps online at ShopRite and Amazon.

The program may especially benefit people who live in a “food desert,” a government definition that measures poverty and proximity to markets that offer healthy food. In urban areas such as Atlantic City, it means being at least a mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store.

SNAP online ordering will follow the same rules as traditional, in-store purchasing in that participants will only be able to use their food stamps to purchase eligible items including breads, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, dairy products and other produce.

Residents will not be able to use their benefits to pay for service or delivery charges, alcohol, nonfood items, medicine, hot foods, meals and other products.

About 837,339 residents receive N.J. SNAP benefits as of October, according to the state Division of Family Development. That number is down 6.1 percent from October 2015.

In Ocean, Cumberland and Somerset counties, children outnumber adults as SNAP recipients, according to the state division’s latest report.

The other six states chosen for the federal pilot program are Iowa, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

The pilot program will test SNAP online ordering and payment processes, and allow officials to examine and address any issues that may occur.

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said they hope to add additional retailers to the program and expand it nationwide at the end of the pilot program.


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Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe