Coming this summer:
Digital food stamps

Another trip to the grocery store

DESPITE THE DAWN of the 21st century in most places, it’s not unusual for government offices to require documents by fax, as if anyone besides government offices has fax machines any more. Ask if a PDF will do only if you’re prepared to explain what a PDF is.

So, when the United States Department of Agriculture goes digital with food stamps, you know the digital age truly is upon us.

And going digital with food stamps is
exactly what the USDA is doing.

This summer, the USDA will pilot a two-year program in which foods stamps can be used to purchase groceries from online retailersAccording to their recent press release, the USDA will pilot the program in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Participating merchants to date include FreshDirectSafewayShopRiteHy-Vee, Hart’s Local GrocersDash’s Market —

— and, the latest to sign on, Amazon.

It may come as a surprise that 2017 marks the ten-year anniversary of Amazon’s first foray into the grocery business. As forays go, it was a tiny, by-invitation service limited to Mercer Island, Washington. The company has cautiously expanded the program since then. Their ten-year history did not stop some news media from spinning Amazon’s grocery business as new and, from there, leaping to making of it a direct challenge to Walmart. “Amazon tests food stamps, another breach of Wal-Mart territory,” screamed a recent USA Today headline. Who knew that Walmart had its own territory, much less one that could suffer breaches?

Besides, Walmart quit hyphenating their name nine years ago.

In addition to keeping up with the times and providing convenience, the USDA hopes that online food stamp redemption will help solve a serious problem known as food deserts, which the USDA defines as:

“… parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”

Trust government to say something like “vapid of.” They could have said “lacking in.” But then, they still use faxes.

You may wonder if people who rely on food stamps have online access. They often have. After all, these days it takes only a smartphone (which also happens to have a ten-year anniversary in 2017—this very month, in fact). For those without their own device for access, library computers may provide a viable option.

With food stamps going digital, I think it’s safe to say that digital payment is no longer the wave of the future. It’s the wave of the present.

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