Missouri residents using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, may now order groceries online from Walmart or Amazon.

Missouri’s application to joint a pilot program to allow Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to be used for online purchasing was accepted in late April. The Department of Social Services has been working to update its computers to allow the purchases, acting Director Jennifer Tidball said in a news release.

“This new option allowing SNAP households to purchase eligible foods online will relieve some of the stress Missourians face related to COVID-19 and improve access to good nutrition,” Tidball said in a news release.

Missouri in April saw its highest recorded one-month increase in food stamp recipients, the release stated. As of April 30, some 750,000 Missourians in 361,000 households received SNAP benefits, up nearly 90,000 individuals or around 50,000 families since March.

The number of individuals receiving food stamps in Missouri has increased 10% compared with the same period last year, while the number of families has increased by 12%.

Until recently, no food could be purchased online using food stamp benefits. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced a pilot program authorized by Congress but didn’t start soliciting applications from interested retailers until 2016.

The program started accepting applications from states in 2019, when it launched in New York. Washington state came next, entering the program in January 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, an onslaught of states started applying to take part in the program. Missouri was spurred to action when state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, heard from a constituent with a seizure disorder expressing concern with her inability to order online.

Unable to drive, she was used to relying on her high-risk parents to help her get groceries. But they didn’t feel comfortable or safe venturing out in public, putting the family in a difficult situation.

Kendrick contacted the department. He figured it was a state issue, but soon realized it was federal. He pushed the department to apply for the pilot program.

Missouri applied to be part of the pilot program in April, and was accepted less than a week after submitting its application.

The program is rolling out about a week ahead of Kendrick’s initial expectations - when the application was approved April 20, Kendrick said he expected the program would likely launch in a month.

“I’m grateful to the constituent who brought this to my attention and I’m happy to have played apart in making this a reality,” Kendrick said. “Being able to help constituents is the best part of this job.”

Missouri joins 14 other states with eight more in the pipeline. The program could be expanded to more grocery retailers at some point, but for now, Walmart and Amazon are the only options. The same is true for most states across the country.

The USDA has also approved Missouri’s request to extend its issuance of Disaster Household Distribution from May 7 through June 6. The approval allows the state to continue issuing Pandemic Food Stamp/SNAP benefits to all households currently eligible for SNAP, which allows them to receive the maximum amount for their household size.

Walmart has posted information about using the program on its website, as has Amazon for those who wish to use that retailer.