Online food retailers want in on the government food stamp business– which is why they petitioned the government to allow EBT cards to be used to shop “for groceries” online.
Gunnar Lovelace, a co-founder of an online grocery vendor, Thrive Market, initiated a petition demanding that the government allow SNAP beneficiaries to shop online with food stamps. Other online food retailers joined him, including Blue Apron and Soylent; and more than 310,000 people signed his petition.
Naturally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed. It recently began soliciting companies to participate in a two-year pilot project to enable SNAP recipients to buy groceries online.
Lovelace claims: “Our goal is to be long-term partners in innovating.” But it’s a safe bet to assume a steady revenue of taxpayer money isn’t a bad business move.
Senator Cory Booker and Congresswoman Barbara Lee also agree, writing in support of the program to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“It would help us move toward a hunger-free and more nutritious America. Unfortunately, many of our governmental policies and programs have not kept pace with the dramatic improvement in healthy food access that technology offers.”
There’s no evidence that moving the SNAP program online will alleviate hunger. Nor is there evidence that food stamp recipients have access to the Internet.
Worse still, people on food stamps don’t have access to healthy foods already. Organic food is far more expensive and an unlikely purchase for food stamp recipients. Expanding a bad program won’t change what SNAP benefits can purchase.
Food equity researcher Mari Gallagher, who coined the term “food desert,” uncovered that 85-87 percent of SNAP-authorized grocers and food retailers in the Roseland and Pullman Chicago communities, did not provide sufficient nutritional varieties in their selection.
Government officials have said the program will mostly benefit the disabled, like the elderly. But do elderly disabled people use the Internet and know how to shop online?
SNAP benefits don’t include delivery fees– so who will pay for those costs? And what if EBT recipients don’t have an Internet connection – will taxpayers have to foot the bill to provide them with one?
As is with most government programs– there is little information about how much it will cost to implement. But one thing is for sure, the online retailers will gain more than food stamp recipients– they’ve found a reliable cash cow.