The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has taken a step toward digitizing its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.
The group is working on a two-year pilot program that allows SNAP users to use their food stamps online. It put out a call to other companies on Thursday to apply for the program, which is scheduled to launch by next summer, according to CNN.
The USDA hopes to partner with up to five companies in three states. And if the pilot program proves successful, it could possibly be expanded.
Earlier this year the USDA proposed new rules that would require retailers to stock a wider variety of fresh, healthy food to give low-income families more access to fresh produce. Despite its good intentions, the USDA’s proposal would likely backfire: Instead of getting convenience stores to stock healthier food, it could force retailers out the SNAP program altogether, which further decreases SNAP users’ access to healthy, fresh food.
Digital food stamps, on the other hand, could remedy that issue. It would be especially helpful for the elderly and disabled who may have trouble leaving their homes, as well as those who simply don’t have time to go grocery shopping. It would also benefit people who live in “food deserts,” or areas where it’s difficult to buy healthy food.
This move by the USDA comes after various healthy online food retailers, including Thrive Market, Blue Apron, and Soylent, petitioned the group to modernize its SNAP program. It garnered over 310,000 signatures.
“We have an opportunity to be putting pressure on making sure that food stamps are a 21st century program,” Thrive Market co-founder Gunnar Lovelace told CNN. “We haven’t run the campaign to make the USDA look bad, our goal is to be long-term partners in innovating.”
At this point, it’s uncertain whether any of the companies who ran the campaign will participate in the THEprogram.