This Enormous Marketplace Doesn't Accept Food Stamps — And It's a Problem


In an age where one can buy both a human-sized hamster wheel and a Nicolas Cage pillowcase with a PayPal account, you'd think people could use their food stamps on the Internet, too. 

But they can't. Using food stamps requires in-person transactions at brick-and-mortar retailers. But many people who use food stamps can't even get to stores that serve up healthy fare: 23 million Americans live in food deserts, geographic locations where access to healthy foods is non-existent. 

Online shopping lets users get some of their chores done from anywhere, with the click of the button. Surely some of the 45.4 million Americans reliant on food stamps could benefit from the convenience of ordering food online. 

And here's an illuminating fact: 74% of people living below the poverty line have access to the internet (that's more than 33 million people), while just 30% have access to a car. These numbers highlight how inaccessibility puts those in poverty at a greater disadvantage: Even if they want to, many of those provided with government aid can't secure nutritious foods. 

On Monday, Thrive Market launched a petition to push the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enable people to use their food stamps online. The petition's landing page offers a glimpse into one family's struggle to make healthy choices while making grocery purchases with food stamps.

Thrive Market, an online store that sells organic products at wholesale prices, has a mission to "make healthy living easy and affordable for everyone – despite location or income class," according to its press release. It's kind of like if Amazon and Whole Foods had an affordable baby. 

"[W]e must ensure [those in poverty] have access to healthy food," Gunnar Lovelace, Thrive Market's founder and co-CEO said in an email. "Increasing access to healthy food is an essential step in working to curb the onset of lifestyle diseases that are burdening our medical system with unsustainable costs — plus the intangible personal and societal costs of these largely preventable diseases."

As Gunnar pointed out, one in every five health care dollars is spent caring for people with diabetes. "Each individual who goes undiagnosed with diabetes will cost the medical system an incremental $100k+," he wrote. 

Providing an online resource for food stamp users would have a chain reaction, Lovelace said. People would be able to order and create healthier food, and as a result, they'd lower the risk for diabetes and other lifestyle diseases that develop from poor nutrition. This, in turn, would hypothetically lower the cost of medical care for all Americans.

Thrive Market's petition is initially seeking 100,000 signatures. "Ultimately, we plan to deliver these signatures to the USDA to demonstrate the massive public support for change in our country's food stamps policy, and work together with the USDA to find a solution to this complex problem," Lovelace said.

To better understand poverty and food stamps by the numbers, check out the infographic below:

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