SF’s largest grocery chain Safeway expands EBT options online

Anthony Ramos is in his second year as a dental student at UC San Francisco, well on his way to a lucrative career perfecting his patients’ smiles. But for now, the days of good and plenty are beyond his current horizon. Ramos’ wallet is being squeezed by forces familiar to many San Franciscans: rent, tuition and even inflationary pressures that are driving up the prices of everything from a gas tank and coffee to e-bikes and toast. to the lawyer.

“We’re in a PhD program, but we don’t have any income,” Ramos said of himself and several of his fellow students. “We don’t have access to food unless we take out a high-interest loan to pay for it.”

With few options, Ramos applied for and received CalFresh benefits, the state’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides low-income residents with financial assistance to buy food through cards. EBT throughput.

This month, Safeway became the first grocery retailer in San Francisco to allow CalFresh recipients to purchase products online for pickup and delivery using their SNAP benefits. Safeway’s program, which is launching in the Bay Area before expanding to the rest of Northern California later this year, also eliminates minimum cart fees as well as the 25-cent bag fee.

CalFresh benefits were initially prohibited for use online. That changed with a new pandemic-era pilot program that opened up EBT benefits for online food purchases.

“Before EBT was rolled out online, you were pretty much limited to what you could do with your card unless you were physically in the store,” Ramos said. “From a personal point of view, there was a time when I didn’t have a car and it was very difficult to get groceries, so I think it’s an essential tool to help feed the population of San Francisco.”

CalFresh recipients can use their EBT debit card as a payment method on the Safeway website, track eligible products and view their SNAP benefits online. They can also use alternative payment methods to purchase non-food products within the same order. Benefits cannot be used for alcohol, hot prepared meals, medications and non-food items, and delivery charges and associated fees for online orders.

“The new service is really about creating an easy access to the shopping experience for everyone so they have options whether they choose to order it through our e-commerce platforms or when shopping in our stores,” said Wendy Gutshall, Safeway Government Affairs. director for Northern California.

Research from Mercatus, a grocery software provider, showed grocery e-commerce sales nearly tripled between 2019 and 2021, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. At the same time, food insecurity remains a major problem in San Francisco, where an estimated one in four residents are at risk of going hungry due to a lack of money.

Yet, there are barriers to using EBT benefits online. Ramos said he was unable to schedule a grocery delivery from Safeway earlier this week due to technical issues with the site that prevented him from placing his order.

Safeway said “a few minor issues” have been reported with the rollout of its expanded SNAP program, and customers experiencing technical difficulties should contact its grocery delivery customer service at (877) 505-4040.

Although there is no publicly available data on SNAP usage for online shopping, research by food insecurity policy group Unbox found that only 1.6% of SNAP transactions in California took place online in 2020.

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According to Unbox’s report, the average online transaction size in California was $29.65, which was lower than the $30 minimum cart benchmark previously used by Safeway.

Liliana Sandoval, associate director of outreach at SF-Marin Food Bank, said limiting SNAP benefits to in-store purchases has proven to be a major struggle for elderly or infirm CalFresh customers, especially during the pandemic. .

“These are people who are at higher risk for Covid or who have mobility issues, and this option allows them to choose to get the nutrition and food they need without taking a few buses or asking someone to go on their behalf,” Sandoval said.

She pointed to a partnership between the California Department of Social Services and Code for America to simplify the CalFresh application process as another recent example of the state using new technology to feed low-income Californians.

“I’ve been doing this job for over a decade,” Sandoval said. “The big difference in the last five years is that before, no one had a phone to text or access the internet. Now, whether they have a computer or not, they have a computer in their pocket.

Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected].

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