WASHINGTON – Actress Shailene Woodley has joined an effort to allow food stamp recipients to purchase healthy foods from online retailers like Amazon, arguing that “healthy food is a privilege, but it should be a right.”
Online grocers and advocacy groups have been lobbying against rules that generally bar the 46 million Americans who receive food stamps from using them with services such as Amazon Fresh.
Woodley, the Divergent film series star who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president, said she did not grow up on food stamps but her “surrounding family still depends” on them.
“If we have the ability to make food stamps available online it’s a social justice issue,” she said at a “Healthy Food for All” briefing last month on Capitol Hill.
Woodley told the audience she has many Native American friends who do not have access to healthy food options since they live in remote areas.
Woodley called on the federal government to “offer the right of healthy food” to ensure that more options are available to food stamp or SNAP recipients.
Cody Two Bears, from a reservation located in North and South Dakota, said Native Americans need to be able to use food stamps at online retailers since grocery stores are typically too far from their reservations.
“We only have one convenience store, which is three miles away,” he said, adding that there is a high diabetes rate among Native Americans.
He explained that Native Americans’ SNAP benefits often run out before the last week of the month.
“Health issues arise in the last week of the month – the statistics are all there,” he said.
Woodley argued that the difficulty for some Americans to access healthy foods is a “race issue.”
“This is ensuring our future America is not just white people like myself who grew up in a middle-class area who had access to food, but it’s that Cody’s kids and Cody’s kids’ kids have the same opportunity to survive in the way my kids will have to survive based on the food they eat now,” she said.
“This is a game-changer when it comes to feeding our country,” she added, citing the high obesity rates among young people.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who attended the briefing, said Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for a third of the federal government’s “long-term deficits.”
“If we are going to bend the cost curve without just gutting long-term healthcare programs, we have to be smart and think differently about what America 2.0 looks like,” he said.
Laura Esquivel of The Hispanic Federation urged lawmakers to help increase food stamp participation among Hispanics.
She said “mixed-status households” are often deterred from applying for SNAP for their children due to “concerns about immigration consequences.”
“There is research that shows food insecurity leads to developmental risks,” said Esquivel, the national advocacy director at the organization.
She added that “children of color in low-income communities” are most likely to be at “developmental risk” compared to their counterparts, which jeopardizes “their ability to achieve in school.”