Online Grocers Want to Accept Food Stamps
But political concerns stand in the way.
Delivery-only grocery stores, like FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh, are all the rage with consumers today—but for many Americans who rely on government assistance to feed their families, these services are out of reach. While $74 billion in funds goes towards providing grocery money to the 46 million Americans reliant on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), it is impossible to use those food stamp credits online. Now, online grocers are coming together to advocate for more flexible food stamp usage.
Gunnar Lovelace and Nick Green, the co-founders and CEOs of Thrive Market, have worked to provide for families in need through their "giving program," which offers a free yearly membership to a low-income family for every paid subscriber to their service. However, Lovelace tells TIME, "we hear from a lot of families in our giving program that they're on food stamps and they can't use the website to its full potential."
So, the duo decided to band together with fellow online retailers and organizations to fight for this cause. Their goal: to open up SNAP usage online, allowing those who live in "food deserts," where fresh, healthful food isn't readily available, to have expanded access to fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich ingredients. "It was a very natural thing for us to focus on, as part of our investment in making good on our social mission as a business," says Lovelace.
The Thrive Market team has been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the SNAP program, to expand the stamps' usage for over a year now, so far with glacial progress. Lovelace explains that the delay is likely due to the concerns over "fraud or the payment processors," that come with the controversial program. "I think [the USDA] is also just a very slow-moving organization that tends to be very cautious because of the highly politicized environment we live in," he adds.
Lovelace and Green acknowledge that their cause isn't totally selfless—they'd "like to be able to compete" for the nearly $80 billion a year in SNAP funds—but say that the financial drive is secondary to their social cause. Recently, Thrive Market has seen surges in business—they now have over 300,000 paid members—and hope the legislation they've advocated for in Congress will open up their service to even more customers, no matter their means of payment.