FreshDirect begins accepting food stamps

Shoppers from Mott Haven and Melrose can use their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to shop from FreshDirect.

But local opposition gains momentum despite company’s new pilot program

Shoppers from Mott Haven and Port Morris who rely on food stamps to buy their groceries will now be able to use their benefits to shop from internet delivery company FreshDirect.

The online grocer launched a pilot program on Sept. 14 that will allow shoppers to use their EBT benefits to buy food via the company’s website or on iPhone or Android mobile apps, provided they live in the 10454 or 10455 zip codes.

But despite the program launch, a group of Mott Haven residents and advocates gained an ally in its fight to keep FreshDirect from moving to the Harlem River Yards in Port Morris from its current headquarters in Queens. Just Food, a group that advocates for consumers to buy locally grown food, announced it will join local community group South Bronx Unite in calling for a boycott of the company.

South Bronx Unite is suing to keep FreshDirect from moving in, alleging that the traffic the company would generate would compound the area’s severe air pollution problems, worsening the neighborhood’s asthma problem. In addition, they are urging state officials to require a new environmental study of the site where the company wants to build its new facility.

The Just Food website urges the public to join the boycott, saying the city and state gave the company $130 million in tax incentives “without participation by the community,” and alleges FreshDirect pays workers less-than living wages.

FreshDirect officials say its new pilot program should be seen as a first step toward policy change nationally that would allow food stamp recipients to use their benefits to buy food online. While the program will allow some Bronxites easier access to fresh groceries, “it has the potential to modernize a critical food assistance program and help more people purchase quality produce and other healthy foods in a convenient way,” said FreshDirect CEO, Jason Ackerman, in a press release.

In a press release, Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr. said he was “extremely thrilled about FreshDirect’s continued commitment to the Bronx with the launch of their unprecedented food stamp pilot program in the 10454 and the 10455 zip codes,” and added that the company “has been focused on the needs of Bronx residents.”

Diaz Jr. praised FreshDirect for “their commitment to the Bronx on service expansion, local hiring, and other key concerns” in a non-binding agreement company officials signed with the Borough President’s office in February.

Customers from the area will be able to use their EBT account cards to order eligible items without paying delivery charges or sales tax, the company says.

Delivery service will be available Mondays-through-Fridays, from either 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., or between 2 and 10 p.m.

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