Demand for online shopping exploded during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Customers began ordering via mobile devices to purchase food items and household goods safely and easily without entering a store. However, one group of customers learned many grocery stores in Oklahoma did not accept state food benefits cards online to purchase groceries.
Fortunately, Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s FireLake Discount Foods has since removed that barrier. In 2021, the Tribe’s store joined a group of Oklahoma grocers that began accepting online purchases through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“We always wanted to be a part of it,” said FireLake Foods Director Richard Driskell. “We were one of the first independent locations in the state when they opened it up.”
While FireLake Discount Foods customers already order groceries online, they lacked the ability to make those purchases using SNAP’s electronic benefits transfer cards, Driskell explained. Customers either had to use another form of payment or come to the store during a pandemic, potentially risking infection.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP, to allow recipients to order and pay for groceries online. OKDHS then began working with a small group of independent grocers to accept SNAP’s EBT cards online.
“They had a number of (chain) pilot stores during nationwide testing, but they opened it up to allow independent stores to apply (for the program),” Driskell said.
“We are so thankful to FireLake Discount Foods, and all the other Oklahoma grocers, who have begun accepting SNAP food benefits for online purchases,” said Casey White, OKDHS spokesperson. “Particularly during COVID-19, our customers found online purchasing to be an easier and safer way to keep food on their families’ tables.”
Driskell said FDF first began the process to accept online EBT transactions in July 2020 and started allowing the new form of electronic payment by spring 2021. Many people stayed home during quarantine periods, and FDF began to see a noticeable increase in online grocery orders.
“It really took off during COVID,” Driskell said.
With the effects of the pandemic somewhat easing and the demand for online shopping returning to normal levels, Driskell estimated about five to 10 shoppers a day use the online EBT payment option.
“That number is growing since we’ve advertised, and we’re letting people know in as many different ways as we can,” he said. “We have had people who use EBT tell us it’s a great resource.”
Online ordering with EBT gives people another payment option besides their bank account or credit card. SNAP customers also said they choose online shopping strictly for the convenience factor, Driskell said.
“If you have younger kids, it’s challenging for a mother or father to shop and corral the kids at the same time. They’re glad it’s available,” he said.
According to OKDHS, 20,331 individuals in Pottawatomie County received SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2021. During that same period, 9,711 families received assistance in the county.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute reports that 28 percent of county residents receive food benefits, ranking 22nd among the state’s 77 counties.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture fully funds SNAP benefits to help low-income families supplement their food budgets, White said. Most recipients are children, older adults and individuals with disabilities, including disabled military veterans.