The Illinois House has approved legislation that would allow people to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP benefits, online.
Residents in food deserts — areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods — say they need more options for obtaining fresh produce.
State Rep. La Shawn Ford, (D-Chicago) said finding good food is a problem across the state, and residents in rural areas who don’t have easy access to a grocery store face a particular challenge.
“We think that only people in Chicago struggle from food deserts, but I’m aware that people, even in the downstate communities, also need access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Other supporters say the legislation would also help homebound seniors and people with disabilities. Community care providers and caretakers would be able to go to stores on a person’s behalf and buy their groceries.
Rep. Anne Stava-Murray (D-Naperville) a Democrat from Naperville, said not being able to use food assistance benefits on the web has directly hurt her constituents.
“It really has been a struggle in my area, specifically that food pantries won’t deliver, and [that] they can’t use their SNAP benefits for online services,” Stava-Murray said. “This will help feed children in my district.”
Many residents who live in food deserts don’t have access to cars, and their local food pantries don’t make home deliveries.
So far four other states have approved online SNAP benefit use with retailers like Amazon and Walmart.
Under the program, SNAP benefits could only be used to purchase food, and could not be put toward shipping or other fees.
The idea still needs approval from the state Senate and governor. Illinois would then be able to join an online SNAP benefit pilot program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which controls the food assistance program.
The bill is House Bill 3836.