Thrive Action: Thrive Market Petitions the USDA to Bring Food Stamps Online

June 26, 2016
by Michelle Pellizzon for Thrive Market
Thrive Action: Thrive Market Petitions the USDA to Bring Food Stamps Online

It’s easy to take the internet—and everything we use it for—for granted. And to forget that just 25 years ago it didn’t exist. Yes, there really was a time when you couldn’t pay a phone or electric bill online—writing out a check and searching for a stamp was your only option. Need to check your bank account balance? Head down to the bank and ask a teller. Want to renew a driver's license? Get yourself to the DMV and be prepared to wait for hours. Life was pretty much one dreary errand after another.

Thankfully, technology has evolved—for most of us. So it’s surprising to hear that in an age where we can buy and do pretty much anything online—and pay with cash, credit, or bitcoin—people still can’t use food stamps online.

In America, 46.5 million people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as the food stamp program—to help them afford groceries. Unfortunately, SNAP participants can’t use their benefits for online food shopping. In a country where 23.5 million people live in “food deserts” and don’t have easy access to brick and mortar grocery stores, requiring benefits to be used in-person creates an arbitrary barrier for millions of families. Our mission has always been to make healthy living accessible for everyone.

That’s why Thrive Market is petitioning the USDA to make food stamps available for online use. Join us—click here to sign the petition!


The most important part of Thrive Market’s mission

Gunnar Lovelace, founder and co-CEO of Thrive Market, knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up in a food-insecure home, and he’s spoken openly about it. “When I was a child, there were many months when my mom and I lived off of rice—and that was it,” he says. When Lovelace founded Thrive Market in 2014, the company’s vision was firmly rooted in the social mission to make healthy food accessible to all, and that remains one of the most important components of his work. “I have a lot of compassion for people who don’t have their basic survival needs met, because that was me,” he says.

This vision has been brought to life with the Thrive Gives program, which gives free Thrive Market memberships to veterans, teachers, students, and low-income families. Members can shop more than 4,000 wholesome, healthy products at up to 50 percent off retail prices, and get everything delivered right to their door.

But we want to do more. As Lovelace puts it, “We're serious about what we're doing, and we want to help as many people as possible.” One way to do that? Allow food stamps to be used online.


Making food stamps redeemable online could change lives

There’s no doubt that SNAP is beneficial for many families—the program has the ability to propel millions out of poverty and into more stable living conditions. In fact, temporary access to SNAP benefits lifted 4.7 million Americans out of poverty in 2014.

But there are major drawbacks to SNAP: Millions of recipients live in food deserts, which means the only places they're likely able to use  benefits at are gas stations and convenience stores. If the nearest grocery store is 30 miles away and you don’t have access to a car, shopping at 7-Eleven might be the only way to feed your family. That doesn’t exactly set the stage for healthy eating.

Here’s the thing about living in the digital age—internet access is more widespread than access to transportation. Even among lower-income families, 74 percent have internet access, but many are without a car. Ordering groceries from online stores is easier and offers better options than in-person shopping—in particular for those in food deserts. And because it’s easy to search for the best price on an item online, it’s usually cheaper.

All the same rules that apply to in-person SNAP purchases would apply to online shopping—no one will be able to use their benefits buy a new iPhone or book a flight to Hawaii. Participants would only be allowed to buy food items.


6 SNAP myths, debunked

It’s not surprising that government benefits like SNAP are so divisive. There’s a common, often unspoken assumption that receiving federal aid means that a person is lazy. But that couldn’t be further from the truth; in fact, 82 percent of households that receive benefits include a child, or an elderly or disabled person—people who often aren’t even eligible for employment. Further, a third of households on SNAP have at least one person with an earned income.

The important takeaway is that the people who rely on government aid are single moms with children to feed, veterans trying to get back on their feet, and elderly people who are unable to work—not people who don’t want to work. Here we disprove some of the fallacies surrounding the program.

Myth: Food stamps are easy to get.
Fact: Recipients need to meet specific qualifications and prove eligibility with paperwork.

Only those who are economically eligible get SNAP benefits—for a single person, that means a total income of less than $1,276 a month; for a family of four, the cutoff is a monthly income of $2,628. All recipients need to prove they are U.S. citizens or documented workers—undocumented immigrants have never been eligible for SNAP.

Myth: People stay on SNAP for their entire lives.
Fact: The average participant is on the program for about 10-13 months.

Although SNAP benefit periods can last up to three years, most healthy adults are limited to a three-month timeframe. From there, they need to submit a renewal application and get re-approved. Most are on the program for about three to four cycles before they can afford to get off.

Myth: SNAP benefits are like free money that can be used on anything, including fast food and alcohol.
Fact: Benefits can only be used on food items in markets that have been pre-approved to accept SNAP.

Non-food products—think pet food, household supplies, cosmetics, alcohol, vitamins, medicine, and tobacco—are all off-limits. Same goes for hot foods, like those that can be eaten in-store or picked up in the deli section.

Myth: Recipients get hundreds of dollars in benefits to use on whatever they want.
Fact: The average monthly benefit is $133.85 per person, or less than $1.50 per meal, per person.

Benefits barely cover groceries—even with SNAP, one third of households still have to visit food pantries to supplement their food budgets. It’s not a lot of money, and a study of more than 3,000 program participants found that, “financial strain is eased but not alleviated by participation in the SNAP program.” The benefits are truly meant to support families during times of financial struggle and keep them from becoming food insecure.

Myth: Taxpayers pay a lot to bankroll the SNAP program.
Fact: A person who earns a $50,000 salary pays about $36 a year in taxes to support food and nutrition assistance programs.

And that $36 doesn’t all go to SNAP. It’s divvied up between SNAP, the school lunch program, and the special supplemental food program for women, infants and children. All in all, food and nutrition services cost the average taxpayer 10 cents a day.

If you’re hesitant to support the SNAP program because of its cost, ask yourself: Do you know the real costs of food insecurity in America? Check out this infographic, which lays out the problem in more detail.


You can help—here’s how

Help us bring the SNAP program into the digital age and sign our petition asking the USDA to make SNAP benefits available for online use. There are millions of Americans who need our help, and this seemingly small change could transform the way they live, by granting easier access to healthy food.


Infographic sources:

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This article is related to: Healthy Living, Thrive Gives, Food Charities, Hunger Charities

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One thought on “Thrive Action: Thrive Market Petitions the USDA to Bring Food Stamps Online”

  • GanjaQueen

    Wonderful, wonderful news to hear you all petitioning for this (and I'm all to glad to lend my signature to this)! The ridiculous misconception a lot of times is just because someone/a family may have food stamps/snap that they don't want to try to eat healthier, but when you have a fixed amount food benefits and family to feed sadly many people have to go w/ as my mama used say 'what our money can afford' and oftentimes it's the worst of the worst kind of stuff b/c even if people want to eat more organic the market-up in typical grocery stores (if they are lucky to even have any selection of organic foods/produce, at all) is insane.

    Being someone, personally, that doesn't have the best of finances I at least can manage paying for this membership; my father however, who does get SNAP benefits--as well as being a vet--sadly doesn't have that same benefit even if wanted to all the time b/c of this stupid archaic system won't allow for online purchasing of the basic food needs of better quality. While I have helped improve both of eating habits immensely w/ the ways I try to look for deals on organics (thankfully in our state of NC--the one of few things this place can get right--SNAP benefits are accepted at our Whole Foods, Trader Joe, and select farmer's markets/ co-op locations along w/ traditional grocery stores and supercenter places like Walmart & Target), a lot of times for certain things I know Thrive has cheaper I have to come out of my pocket with it (if I can) and order it myself. And while I've always been proud of how Thrive offers 'Thrives Gives', as you all acknowledge in your own article the free membership is only as useful those at a disadvantage if they can use the very food funding subsidies like SNAP online to buy those healthier options that these people have been opened to.

    Apologizes for the long post, lol, I suppose you can guess I'm a bit passionate, as well as equally as frustrated as you all have of such slow process in a thing like this, when you can practically buy just about anything else online and pay with pretty any kind of from of currency--hell even Bitcoins payment options are prevalent in a many circumstances--yet still in ass backward state of not even allowing people to use SNAP benefits to pay for foodstuffs online (seeing as though speaking from personal experience at in my state--and I can imagine other states have something similar--SNAP benefits are typically on cards that are used just debit/credit cards are used at register terminals, even so far as having same 16-digit number card scheme). Frankly this is something that is long overdue for an overhaul, we can advance everything else for online convenience--so why is this still lacking? Also, thanks from the bottom of my heart for writing out such a thoughtful debunking portion of your article--as it's often so freaking disgusting and annoying hear the ridiculous misconceptions that people 'think' they know about those on food benefits (and how much their so-called 'tax money' really goes to it).

    If you really want to stick it to Big Food and force them to change, this is one helluva way to start it out! And it'll be a better way to help make organics affordable to all the more people can have afford access and the ability use their SNAP benefits to due so will really help us all in this fight!

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