When the modern food stamp program began as a pilot project in 1961 -- it was authorized as a permanent program three years later -- those in charge probably never envisioned a day when people might walk into fast-food restaurants, order up a huge container of French fries and then pull out their food stamps to pay. But that’s what’s happening in some places today, and restaurant owners are pushing for a bigger share of the pie.
The philosophy of the original program, which evolved into SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) was to allow low-income citizens to be able to buy basic food supplies at grocery stores and then take that food home for preparation. In the decades since, there have been dozens of “urban myths” surrounding food stamps, but some of them now seem to be coming dangerously close to the truth.
Federal provisions in the program generally prohibit prepared foods, but a provision dating to the 1970s allows states to allow restaurant to serve certain people. And now, Louisville-based Yum! Brands -- think Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver’s and Pizza Hut – is trying to get restaurants more involved. There’s a lot of money at stake; between 2005 and 2010, food stamp benefits increased from $28.5 billion to $64.7 billion.
Of course there are differing viewpoints. The National Restaurant Association supports the move of food stamps into restaurants, while the National Association of Convenience Stores, whose members can already sell so-called junk food to food stamp patrons, doesn’t. Advocates for healthful eating aren’t too hot on the prospect, either.
It seems to us that the food stamp program is like many federal entitlements which have grown beyond their intended bounds. We’re confident those who founded the program saw it as a way for low-income people to buy basic food products and prepare them for their family’s health. There’s nothing wrong with that. And certainly, lifestyles have changed, but we just have a difficult time justifying SNAP qualifiers loading up on fried chicken and mashed potatoes and then having Uncle Sam pick up the tab.