From March through September 2020, N.C. Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) doled out benefits to 434,209 people and 320,329 households, totaling $332,304,796. As the pandemic continues to keep shoppers socially distanced, a national delivery platform, Instacart, has launched a SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot program that serves people receiving food assistance. Through Instacart’s mobile app and website, EBT retailers have been added in N.C., including Aldi, Amazon, Carlie C’s, Walmart, and the most recent addition of Food Lion.
“Adding another retailer where people can use their EBT cards for online purchases continues to make the FNS program more accessible and convenient for families to shop safely, practice social distancing and get the nutrition they need during this pandemic,” NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Human Services Tara Myers said in a press release.
According to recent findings from the N.C. Justice Center, N.C. ranks the 10th highest in the nation for food insecurity. Essentially, 590,000 households don’t have food to eat daily.
By growing its online retailers, N.C. FNS and Instacart can help individuals and families that lack transportation or have mobility barriers access groceries easier. Those located in food deserts who can’t purchase fresh food near their home also benefit.
As an added bonus, Instacart is waiving delivery and pickup fees for the first three orders FNS recipients make with their EBT cards. Thereafter, folks will have to cover delivery costs with a different form of payment since EBT purchases can only be made toward food.
As shoppers choose a retailer and add groceries to their Instacart, they will complete the checkout process by choosing how much of their benefit allotment should go toward their purchase.
According to a press release from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the state was among the first to allow FNS recipients to make online purchases via EBT. Though inspired from increased online shopping during the pandemic, online EBT retailers will be permanent for N.C. recipients moving forward.
Retailers that want to accept EBT through online purchasing must apply via the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“All EBT retailers in North Carolina have received information from USDA about how to become approved for online FNS purchases,” according to the state health department.
In October 2020, the USDA, which oversees FNS nationwide, increased SNAP benefits for the 2021 fiscal year by more than 5% — double the 20-year average of 2%. The maximum allotment given to a SNAP participant is the highest it’s been in the program’s history, up from $646 to $680 for a family of four.
N.C. has increased its maximum benefit temporarily by 15% until June 30, 2021, as part of the federal Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020.
In 2021, the USDA has expanded benefits by:
- Allowing states to issue emergency supplemental SNAP benefits totaling more than $2 billion per month, increasing SNAP benefits by 40%
- Expanding the online purchasing pilot to 47 states, covering more than 90% of all SNAP households
- Waiving certain administrative requirements to make it easier for states to serve their SNAP clients during the pandemic
- Implementing Pandemic EBT, which is providing benefits similar to SNAP to 99% of children normally receiving free or reduced-price school meals
- Debuting the “Meals for Kids” interactive site finder to help families find free meals for children at more than 77,000 locations while schools are closed
- Supporting food banks with over $6 billion worth of food and administrative resources
- Providing a $50 million boost in food assistance through the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
- Supporting the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, which is delivering American-grown and produced foods to low-income households.
N.C. individuals and families interested in applying for FNS benefits should go to epass.nc.gov.
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