Restaurants seek food stamp customers

Sept. 6, 2011 at 12:06 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- More and more U.S. restaurants say they want to be allowed to accept food stamps as the entitlement program continues to grow.

USA Today reports restaurants have not typically accepted food stamps, distributed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as federal rules generally prohibit their use to buy prepared foods.

But since the 1970s, the federal government has let states decide whether to allow disabled, elderly and homeless people to buy restaurant meals with food stamps, USDA spokeswoman Jean Daniel said.

Four states -- Arizona, California, Florida and Michigan -- now allow use of food stamps at restaurants, USA Today said.

The newspaper reported federal lobbying records show Louisville-based Yum! Brands, whose restaurants include Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver's and Pizza Hut, is trying to get more restaurants involved.

"It makes perfect sense to expand a program that's working well in California, Arizona and Michigan, enabling the homeless, elderly and disabled to purchase prepared meals with SNAP benefits in a restaurant environment," Yum! spokesman Jonathan Blum said.

From 2005 to 2010, the number of businesses certified by SNAP rose from about 156,000 to nearly 209,000, while food stamp benefits increased from $28.5 billion to $64.7 billion.

The National Restaurant Association supports the effort by Yum! but the National Association of Convenience Stores does not.

The idea drew mixed views among others.

Kelly Brownell, director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said encouraging more people to eat fast food is not good for their health.

But Edward Cooney of the Congressional Hunger Center said, "(Opponents) think going hungry is better? I'm solidly behind what Yum! is doing."

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