Fred Meyer starts accepting SNAP benefits for curbside pickup

A shopper uses gloves while getting groceries at the Fred Meyer on Northern Lights on April 7th, 2020. (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

The pandemic has highlighted some major inequities in the way people shop for groceries. For instance, it can be extremely difficult to order groceries online for curbside pickup if you’re paying with federal assistance programs.

Not all stores in Alaska are set up for that.

But one large chain has started allowing curbside pickup for individuals paying with benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP.

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Fred Meyer recently added SNAP as a payment option on its website. Customers can swipe their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card when they pick up groceries curbside.

Shawnda O’Brien, director of the state’s Division of Public Assistance, said the state doesn’t have oversight on the issue, but she was glad to see the change.

“From my perspective, I’m excited about that,” O’Brien said. “Kind of forcing us to utilize technology in a better way and give people more options. And so, oftentimes we’re faced with a lot of roadblocks at different regulatory levels. So I think this is giving us an inside perspective of what might be coming in the future.”

However, purchasing groceries with assistance from the Women, Infants, and Children program, or WIC, still isn’t an option for online ordering and curbside pickup. And for customers who shop in person, O’Brien said there are other challenges.

She’s heard reports across the state of WIC-eligible items, such as milk and baby formula, disappearing off the shelves. She said that’s especially troubling for communities off the road system.

She thinks those items will be restocked. In the meantime, the state is working with federal agencies to eventually allow substitutions.