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Food deserts cause countless American families to struggle with access to nutritious, healthy meals.
While this issue is pervasive, government agencies are trying to make progress in this issue with novel approaches — using the ever-growing technological landscape.
In 2014, the Farm Bill passed by congress introduced an Online Purchase Pilot (OPP) that gave beneficiaries an option to use SNAP to purchase groceries online for delivery.
A recent study out of Yale University found this program has the potential to help those families who live in areas that lack access to fresh foods and produce.
“For individuals using SNAP, there’s been a lot of bad rap about the quality of food that they purchase, and there’s not been a lot of focus on trying to support individuals getting better-quality diets that has been successful,” the study’s lead researcher Eric J. Brandt—a national clinician scholar at Yale University’s School of Medicine—told NPR. “So, I really hope that this is part of that pathway towards better quality and better health.”
What Did the Study Find?
This research, published in JAMA open network, studied the eight states that were approved to participate in the pilot program. Those include:
- New Jersey
- New York
The current study suggested that “among eight states participating in the USDA’s OPP, online grocery purchasing and delivery services were available to more than 90% of urban food desert census tracts and SNAP households within them.”
In fact, 93% of SNAP-eligible households in urban food deserts were located in areas that fully qualified for grocery delivery. These numbers go to show that there is a potential to use these services for some, according to the researchers.
“Many [people] are working on attempts to improve the quality of food choices in food deserts, such as stocking corner stores and convenience stores with healthier foods, among other ways,” Brandt said. “Delivery is now in that conversation. Now, we need to learn how to use it.”
Still, that data also showed that those living in a food desert in rural communities did not have the same level of access.
“They’re mutually exclusive, and they don’t define each other,” Brandt said. “So that’s why there’s this middle category of partially deliverable because some of the ZIP codes that were in the census tract for the food desert had delivery, but other ZIP codes in that same census tract did not.”
Still, researchers believe this is the start of something big, due to the ways it could be implemented across the country.
“The study strongly suggests that existing grocery delivery networks, when combined with online grocery-purchasing, could potentially strengthen access to groceries in many areas where it is most lacking,” the researchers state.
Other studies have also suggested that when online grocery shoppers have a choice, preordering food also has an impact on their benefits.
“Future studies should evaluate how best to leverage and finance online grocery purchasing and delivery to enhance dietary quality, especially among SNAP recipients,” Brandt said.
Why is SNAP important for Latinos?
SNAP is a powerful anti-poverty program for Latinos.
The federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides federally funded nutritional support to qualifying low-income persons.
SNAP program benefits supplied roughly 40 million Americans in 2018, at an expenditure of $57.1 billion.
The program lifts millions of people out of poverty and helps them stay out. SNAP helps recipients avoid poverty and hunger. It also boosts children’s health and allows children to perform better in school.
Latinos, make up about 20% of SNAP recipients, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
- 34% of SNAP households include seniors
- 23% of SNAP households include children
- 11% of SNAP households include a person with a disability
According to the report from the U.S. Agriculture Department, Latino families are more likely to experience food insecurity compared with all U.S. households.
About 1 in 5 (19 percent) households headed by Latinos were food insecure in 2016, compared with 1 in 8 (12 percent) for all U.S. households.
More than one-fifth of SNAP benefits—about $16 billion in 2016—went to Latino households. On average, Latino households that participate in SNAP receive $290 in SNAP each month
SNAP also offers temporary support to provide food for people and families.
SNAP helps Latino recipients avoid poverty and hunger. It also boosts Latino children’s health and helps children perform better in school.
How Is SNAP Changing?
Sadly, the Trump Administration wants to cut SNAP. This could eliminate access to healthy food from over 750,000 Americans who are underemployed and unemployed.
On Feb. 20, 2020, the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR) hosted a Connect & Explore webinar titled, “Click, Click, Cook: Online Grocery Shopping Leaves’ Food Deserts’ Behind.”
The webinar provided a brief overview of the study described above, called “Availability of Grocery Delivery to Food Deserts in States Participating in the Online Purchase Pilot.” The webinar discussed the opportunities to expand programs and policies to increase food access and improve diet quality in food deserts through online grocery delivery services.
Check out these SNAP stories of how the program has benefited families!