Back in October AdkAction received $225,000 in grant funding from Adirondack Foundation, NYS Health Foundation, and Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to extend the Emergency Food Packages project and transition it into a longer-term model designed to provide continued food assistance to families in need. A key component of the transition has been leveraging Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help area residents purchase local food.
AdkAction provided technical assistance to the Hub on the Hill to help the organization become an approved SNAP vendor and funding to purchase three Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card readers, hand-held devices that allow the Hub to accept SNAP benefits when delivering Farm Fresh Packages. These devices have been used extensively over the past five months, but accepting SNAP during food deliveries poses some significant challenges. First of all, the customer must be home to accept delivery. Secondly, the EBT card reader requires an internet or 4G connection which, as AdkAction recognizes from a decade of experience working to increase internet access in the region, is not ubiquitous in the Park. Finally, accepting SNAP during deliveries puts delivery drivers at risk of contracting COVID-19 as it requires interaction with customers at the time of delivery.
In order to overcome these challenges and help the more than 20,000 people in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties on SNAP gain access to nutritious, locally-grown food from dozens of local farms that sell through the Hub, AdkAction has enlisted the help of a team of software developers to find a solution that would allow the Hub to accept SNAP transactions. This would allow customers to pay with their benefits online as if paying by credit card. The 2014 Farm Bill mandated a pilot be conducted to test the possibility of allowing retail food stores to accept SNAP benefits through online transactions. In April of 2019, the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot became available in the State of New York. So far, only Amazon and Walmart have been able to clear the hurdles to participation in the SNAP Online Pilot. AdkAction is working to put the Hub on the Hill right up there with these two mega-retailers.
This is urgent because, for most families on food stamps, online food shopping hasn’t been an option during the pandemic, which means they must shop in person, increasing the possibility of exposure to the coronavirus for a subset of the population that includes seniors, low-income families, and people with disabilities.
With the pandemic-driven hunger crisis exacerbating endemic rural food insecurity, AdkAction believes that accepting SNAP online is one of the most critical tools to ensure the safe delivery of nutritious food to households impacted by the pandemic.
One of the significant barriers preventing small retailers like Food Hubs from participating in the SNAP online pilot is technology. There is currently only one third party processor (TPP) that is available to retailers applying to participate in the SNAP online pilot program; Fiserv. Fiserv’s EBT payment processing technology does not easily integrate with common e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Magneto, SalesForce, Woo Commerce, and Big Commerce. An intermediate technology solution is required for retailers to meet the retailer requirements to provide online purchasing to SNAP households. We are partnering with Forage Payments solutions to pilot a technology solution to create equitable online food purchasing opportunities that could be widely available to NYS farmers, food hubs, and locally-owned food retailers.
This could be a tremendous opportunity for local farmers and food producers as over $3.87 million in SNAP benefits per month are distributed to more than 20,000 people in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin Counties based on data from the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) for December 2020. AdkAction assisted the Hub on the Hill with an application to become a SNAP Online Pilot vendor back in October of 2020 and we are currently waiting on a decision from the Food and Nutrition Services department of the United States Department of Agriculture. It is not uncommon for the application process to take 6 – 12 months, and we are anxiously awaiting a green light so that we can forge a path forward for The Hub on the Hill that will allow other food hubs, farmers, and small retailers to gain market access and help low-income households buy quality food with their SNAP benefits.