The holiday shopping season creates financial stress for most Americans. But for the 51 million Americans earning at or below 130% of the poverty line, budgets are even tighter. These people qualify for SNAP–the program formerly known as food stamps–but around 9 million of those who qualify aren’t enrolled. This holiday season, 9 million people are walking through grocery stores, carefully selecting which items can go into their shopping carts, while leaving a combined $3.2 billion in grocery purchasing power on the table.
It’s no mystery why more qualified people don’t enroll: the process of enrolling in SNAP can be daunting, with multi-hour wait times at government offices, busy phone lines, and jargon-filled application forms. SNAP enrollment websites, where they exist, are often built on outdated software designed for desktop browsers rather than mobile devices. And mobile access to programs like SNAP has become increasingly critical–a recent Pew Research poll found that low-income Americans are disproportionately “smartphone-dependent” internet users.
That’s where my company, Propel, comes in: we bring user-centric design and modern software to those who need it the most. Our mission? To make the government more user-friendly for low-income Americans.
Our first product, EasyFoodStamps.com, streamlines the SNAP enrollment process with a simple, friendly, error-proof user interface that is designed for smartphone screens.
We started with SNAP because the statistics around SNAP usage suggest that it’s a temporary need for many–76.6 million Americans qualify for SNAP at some point during a given year, but 57% of them were eligible for only part of the year. But they’re not signing up because the wait times are daunting, and the websites are frustrating… so they’re going without a food supplement in their time of need.
We want to make that better, because we believe that government assistance programs play a key role in helping Americans manage their cash flow through peaks and valleys. By making SNAP enrollment more user-friendly, we can help the program achieve its promise: To serve as a temporary safety net that responds quickly to changing household finances.
Taking SNAP to the Grocery Store
We’ve recently begun working with the Burns’ Family Neighborhood Markets, a multi-store supermarket operator in the Philadelphia area. Propel and the Burns’ Family’s Fresh Grocer stores are working together to help qualified individuals enroll in SNAP, providing them with more grocery purchasing power just in time for the holiday season, when we know food purchasing is top-of-mind.
It’s easy to take food for granted. At Propel, we’re using software to bring simplicity and dignity to asking for help when it’s needed. This holiday season, we hope that translates into fuller shopping carts and more satisfied families.
Jimmy Chen is the co-founder and CEO of Propel. Previously, he was a Product Manager at Facebook, and before that, a Product Manager at LinkedIn. Learn more about Propel at joinpropel.com, and follow them at @easyfoodstamps.
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