The beneficiaries of the state’s Food and Nutrition Services – the program that was once known as the “food stamp” program – will now be able to use their food benefits’ charge card for online purchases at BJ’s Wholesale Club, the membership-only warehouse chain that operates mainly along the East Coast. 

Over the past year, state health officials have been trying to make it easier for the clients of Food and Nutrition Services to use their cards online in order to help keep people safe during the pandemic.

So, North Carolina Food and Nutrition Services program participants can now purchase groceries online using their “Electronic Benefit Transfer” cards – better known as “EBT” cards – at the warehouse stores. According to state officials, this added flexibility will allow participants to buy food while social distancing, and it will also make shopping easier on families with transportation and mobility challenges.

Last year, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Carolina, state health and social services staff helped develop an online shopping system for people and families with EBT cards.  BJ’s is now the sixth North Carolina EBT retailer that’s taking orders online –  joining Food Lion, Amazon, Walmart, Carlie C’s and Aldi as approved vendors for the new program.  A lot of people would no doubt like to see COSTCO on the list. However, that very popular store isn’t an option right now for online shopping with EBT cards.

In May 2020, North Carolina was one of the first 10 states to implement online purchasing for Food and Nutrition Services and, according to the US Department of Agriculture, the state currently has the most authorized online retailers in the country,

While these online shoppers will be able to use their benefits to purchase eligible food items, they won’t be able to use their benefits to pay for delivery charges.  Right now, BJ’s is only allowing EBT purchases for pickup orders – not for same-day delivery through Instacart. There are no additional costs or fees for either in-club or curbside pickup. 

One limit on this new retailer is that it’s a membership-only store.  So, unless they’re already a member, people with EBT cards will have to join if they want to use this service.  The state of North Carolina didn’t really address this issue in its press release this week.  However, Guilford County Health and Human Services Director Heather Skeen stated in an email, “There was no reference to a change in membership requirements so it appears that BJ’s has been added as a[n] authorized online retailer for EBT recipients that are members.”

Online purchasing for Food and Nutrition Services Users will remain in place permanently even once the pandemic is in the past.