Private enterprise has long provided the government with efficient solutions, even if the government itself undermines private efforts by using technology ineffectively.
One of the latest examples of how private companies sometimes help to make government programs more efficient comes from Amazon and Walmart, which are launching a two-year pilot program along with the government to help beneficiaries of food assistance programs.
The effort seeks to give low-income consumers in New York the chance to purchase groceries online using government-backed payment methods. Shoppers will be able to use government assistance at ShopRite in addition to Walmart and Amazon.
This change was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which had previously required beneficiaries to use the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) in person and in real time.
In short, users will be able to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits online, having access to an array of food items at a much lower price. This could potentially help them use their benefits more wisely, even if delivery charges aren't always covered, which might force some users to spend some more on their transactions to cover delivery charges. Still, if beneficiaries can order a minimum amount stipulated by Amazon and Walmart, they will unlock free shipping.
If anything, this partnership could help to make Americans on government assistance more likely to purchase quality food products. With only some items being eligible online for EBT users, this could give them extra incentives to eat healthfully.
According to the USDA, if the program is successful in New York City and upstate New York, it will eventually expand to more areas of New York State, New Jersey, Alabama, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, Washington, and Oregon. But before the expansion, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said that it is important for SNAP to keep up with the times.
"As technology advances, it is important for SNAP to advance too, so we can ensure the same shopping options are available for both non-SNAP and SNAP recipients," he told reporters.
Considering SNAP benefits go to roughly 38 million Americans and that 82 percent of the money is spent at major grocery chains, making more options available to consumers could help them widen their access to top-quality food ingredients that are often expensive at grocery stores.
For instance, SNAP recipients will have access to AmazonFresh even if they are not Amazon Prime members. This will give them the chance to get dairy products, meat, and fresh produce delivered to their door. Using Prime Pantry, consumers will be able to shop for packaged goods like canned food and other items.
To low-income shoppers who have difficulties going to grocery stores in person, this could help them boost their quality of life with ease, even if what they can order at the moment is still limited.
Prior to this program, Walmart had already started to provide SNAP recipients with services in 2017, allowing customers in limited locations to order items online and pay for them at the store during pickup. However, the world’s largest retailer only became involved with this pilot program after Amazon.
In a statement released after the program’s announcement, Walmart said that helping people have better access to quality products is a “great step forward.”
"Access to convenience and to quality, fresh groceries shouldn't be dictated by how you pay," it added.
Whether private companies should or should not be involved with government programs, it is important to highlight just how much technology is helping everyone improve their quality of life.