Popular check-in kiosks mean more food stamp recipients could cut back on snacking

Hate the SNAP program? Well here’s some bad news for you.

One in seven people in the U.S. don’t make enough money to purchase food at a good price, and a lot of those people are coming to trust a new piece of technology to do it all for them.

The check-in kiosks that have become common at most grocery stores in the past few years, such as those operated by Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway, are fast becoming popular with shoppers who desperately need to spend less time filling out forms at the checkout.

The stations, designed by Recrodit, give shoppers a unique barcode that they scan on their phone to receive an instant reward ranging from a gift card to cash. The fees for using the gift cards can sometimes be as low as 99 cents, said Lauren Lau, an online marketing specialist and the program manager for Recrodit.

“We’re breaking down all the barriers and we’re making it easy for people who are struggling with the food stamp program,” Lau said.

SNAP is the federal government’s food stamp program, in which individuals and families can receive a monthly allowance of roughly $600.

According to Lau, the technology has been in use for about a year now, and the kiosks typically are accessed about 100 times a day, filling out 85,000 forms a day.

Retailers and cash-strapped Americans alike welcome the gadgets for the convenience and transparency they offer.

While the government would prefer people to fill out food stamp forms in full at a real supermarket, some shoppers, especially those struggling with limited income or with disabilities, lack the time or patience to fill out lengthy forms. In 2016, there were 45 million SNAP recipients who needed help completing paperwork, according to the Agriculture Department.

“If you’re a sick or disabled person or very low income and you have to fill out food stamps, that can take up to an hour, and you’re out shopping and out of cash,” Lau said. “So we eliminated that barrier.”

The move could get worse if the Supreme Court rules Wednesday that states can limit the amount of time SNAP recipients can spend shopping by automatically withholding their benefits.

And the need is there. Lau said she and her fellow Recrodit staffers have been consistently fielding calls from people who work at supermarkets, asking for their help with the technology.

“People are coming to us saying, ‘I don’t want to be a statistic, I want to keep my benefit,’” Lau said.

The system is still new and the details of how much money, if any, can be earned with its system are still being worked out, but Lau said that the barcodes that are scanned are all unique and never transfer to a person’s account.

For some lucky shoppers, it pays off. One woman who used the system was nominated for a raise at work, Lau said. And a professional basketball player got a meeting with a player development coach.

Coupon clipping is a far cheaper method of reimbursing shoppers for food stamps than the system, but it requires a lot of time and effort to follow through with the few items shoppers tend to grab.

Lau said her company sometimes generates $1 million in revenue with the system. And the customer satisfaction rate is high, she said, averaging 86 percent, compared with 46 percent for other promotions, including coupons.

“Everybody loves them, they’re a nice experience,” Lau said. “There’s a lot of people who can use them, and they’re going to be a real big help to the government and the retailers.”

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