Government preparing to let food stamp recipients shop at online retailers using taxpayer money
by J. D. Heyes September 2016
(NaturalNews) Americans receiving taxpayer-funded food stamp benefits are about to have their lives made even more convenient: The Obama administration is set to allow them to shop online, which means that the government assumes welfare and food stamp recipients also have the Internet.
As reported by Business Insider, recent modifications to the food stamp program, SNAP, are ostensibly meant to alleviate the problem of “food deserts” – that is, provide a service to recipients who live in places with fewer healthy grocery stores.
In recent days, the Department of Agriculture began the process of soliciting companies to participate in a two-year pilot project that would allow SNAP recipients to buy groceries online. If it is deemed to be a success, the program will be expanded, unless the next president curbs it or eliminates it altogether.
Gunnar Lovelace, one of the co-founders of Thrive Market, an online healthy grocery vendor, told CNN Money that his firm has “an opportunity to be putting pressure on making sure that food stamps are a 21st century program.”
Of course, being guaranteed a share of government money is likely motivation enough for Thrive Market founders, though it’s not yet clear if the company will actually be one of the retailers included in the pilot program, which is set to launch next summer.
There is zero evidence that this will work as designed
Thrive is just one of several online food retailers that started a petition over the summer to allow SNAP beneficiaries to shop online with food stamps. Other signatories include Blue Apron, a meal kit service, and Soylent, a meal replacement company. In all, some 310,000 people signed the petition.
Lovelace claims that he didn’t begin the petition campaign to make the Department of Agriculture look bad. Rather, he says, “Our goal is to be long-term partners in innovating.”
Lawmakers are also lining up behind the program – most of them liberal Democrats who, like President Obama, have long favored expanding government handout programs rather than attempting to reign them in by creating opportunities that make Americans less dependent on government (taxpayer) largess. Recently, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., wrote a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in support of the pilot program.
“It would help us move toward a hunger-free and more nutritious America,” they wrote, though it isn’t clear how moving the SNAP program online will alleviate hunger. “Unfortunately, many of our governmental policies and programs have not kept pace with the dramatic improvement in healthy food access that technology offers.”
But is this the best deal for taxpayers who, ultimately, are footing the bill? While some natural and organic food sellers offer good products at decent prices, generally speaking it is more expensive.
Also, there is little information regarding the actual number of people this program, for what it will cost to implement, will actually help. Government officials said they expect the program to mostly benefit the disabled, the elderly and anyone else who may have trouble leaving home, and that it may also help those with little access to healthier food options.
Just another big-government ‘feel-good’ program?
But SNAP recipients are still on budgets, so even if they are given access to “healthier” options, if those options are more expensive, chances are good they won’t use them. In addition, Business Insider reported, SNAP benefits do not include delivery fees, which will also limit the number of recipients using online grocery programs.
What’s more, government officials and academics fail to understand the basic economics of SNAP food buyers and conventional brick-and-mortar businesses. Case in point: Food equity researcher Mari Gallagher, who coined the term “food desert,” discovered that in the Chicago communities of Roseland and Pullman, 85 to 87 percent of SNAP-authorized grocers and food retailers did not provide sufficient nutritional varieties in their selection, reported the Chicago Tribune.
However, what this finding doesn’t appear to take into consideration is that perhaps local food sellers are much more aware of what their SNAP customers want and are regularly buying – so they stock their shelves accordingly. Simply expanding an existing entitlement program to make it “21st century” by allowing recipients to shop online, in no way guarantees a healthier food consumption outcome.
So, why do it at all? Because it’s a “feel-good” solution?
And what if a recipient doesn’t have an Internet connection – will taxpayers have to provide them with one?