The average monthly food stamp benefit is $133.85 per person, and even the most savvy shopper can only make that go so far for good, healthy food in the grocery store. If the shopper doesn't have a grocery store within reach, like those who live in food deserts, the opportunity to use the food stamps for healthy foods is greatly minimized.
A food desert is an area where people don't have easy access to fresh produce, healthy grains and other nutritionally sound whole foods. The United States Department of Agriculture created an interactive Food Desert Locator in 2011, which it has since renamed Food Access Research Outlet.
Getting healthy foods to people who live in food deserts is the job of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There is one simple way it could be done for food stamp recipients that the USDA does not allow. Currently, the federal agency does not allow food stamps to be used for healthy foods online, foods that are often at a lower price than in the grocery store. This rule is in place despite the fact that most people who live at or below the poverty line have more access to internet (74 percent) than a car (30 percent).
Thrive Market has a petition that asks the USDA to allow food stamps to be used online. Their reasoning makes a lot of sense.
We are petitioning the USDA to allow food stamp recipients to use their benefits online so they can access healthy food even if they don't live near a grocery store. More than 23 million Americans live in areas with little to no access to healthy food, called food deserts. People should be able to use their benefits online to buy healthier food at lower prices. Treating diabetes costs the medical system $245B [billion] annually, and the cost associated with heart disease is $444B a year. By enabling people to buy healthy food with their food stamps regardless of where they live, we can help prevent disease and save lives. Join us by signing our petition and asking the USDA to help make a change.
Jillian Michaels, a trainer who often appears on TV's "The Biggest Loser," makes another good argument for allowing food stamps to be used online. When the only food available to people on food stamps comes from the mini-mart or the fast food restaurant, they have no choice but to buy junk food with their benefits.
Thrive will hold a congressional hearing, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, to discuss this issue. The hearing should happen sometime this month.
If you chose to sign the petition, you'll be choosing to help people like the Martinez family, who understand the difference that healthy food can make in their family's health. Being able to use their food stamps online would give them access to a wider variety of healthy foods along with making their food stamps benefits stretch further.
I have signed the petition bringing the support up to 13,807 signatures out of the 100,000 Thrive hopes to get. If the petition is successful — and the USDA allows food stamps to be used online — Thrive Market will no longer be the only online store food stamp recipients will be able to shop at. Thrive may be leading the cause, but it's not asking to be the exclusive online seller to food stamp recipients.