Don’t be shocked if you dine at your neighborhood McDonald’s or Taco Bell someday soon and see a sign saying, "We Accept WIC cards."
At a time of high unemployment, with more people seeking government assistance, major fast-food chains are eager to serve themselves a happy meal of food stamp revenues. Only four states — California, Arizona, Michigan and Florida — currently permit some diners to pay with food stamps. However, at least one chain — Louisville-based Yum! Brands, which operates Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver’s and Pizza Hut — is lobbying to expand the program.
USA Today recently reported:
Federal rules generally prohibit food stamp benefits, which are distributed under the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), from being exchanged for prepared foods. Yet a provision dating to the 1970s allows states to allow restaurants to serve disabled, elderly and homeless people, USDA spokeswoman Jean Daniel said.
Between 2005 and 2010, the number of businesses certified in the SNAP program went from about 156,000 to nearly 209,000, according to USDA data. There is big money at stake. USDA records show food stamp benefits swelled from $28.5 billion to $64.7 billion in that period
"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.
But does it really make perfect sense in terms of our health?
In communities where it's easier to find a gun than a fresh vegetable — and which already suffer from disproportionately high rates of such diet-related problems as obesity, heart disease and diabetes — increasing fast-food consumption is not the answer for those who need nutrition. It would make more sense to add grocery stores and farmer's markets in these areas, and encourage people to use their food stamps to buy fresher, healthier items.
There has to be a better way to deal with the hunger crisis happening in America — and one that involves more than just making fast food joints richer.
What do you think? Should food stamps be used for fast food?
Read what health advocates, including our Health Hero Michelle Gourdine, MD, are saying here.
(Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)