The California Restaurant Association is lobbying San Diego County supervisors to allow participants in the CalFresh Food Benefits program to use their federally funded debit cards to receive hot, prepared meals at restaurants. North County Times reports:
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved early plans to allow elderly, disabled and homeless recipients to redeem their county-administered benefits at local restaurants. With the vote, county staff is charged with crafting a way to put the plan in place, and presenting it to the board in three months.
Supporters say restaurants should be an option for food stamp recipients because many have no way to cook or store the food they receive at grocery stores. About 10 percent of the county's 213,000 food stamp recipients would be eligible for the program, county officials said.
"A lot of the elderly and the homeless don't have kitchens," said Andrew Casana, a lobbyist for the California Restaurant Association, speaking to the board at its downtown chambers.
The association brought the idea to board members last year, saying it would boost business and fill a community need. The number of people receiving food stamps countywide has spiked by 79 percent in two years, according to the county.
At first blush this seems like a terrible idea to me, but I can see why they are taking the proposal seriously. The option would only be open to the 10% who are homeless or don't have access to a kitchen. The menu items would be limited to supposedly healthy options, but the list of participating restaurants doesn't inspire confidence - Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, Jack In The Box, KFC, and Carl's Jr.. I am thinking of one homeless person I'm working with lately who doesn't have access to a kitchen and he mostly just wants peanut butter from our food pantry. The worst fast food would be a better option for him than just peanut butter. So for him, and people like him I would support something like this.
What concerns me is that this is the beginning of a shift in the way federal dollars are used to help the poor. This door has already been opened in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I'm wondering how long it will take the lobbyists to suggest that the program has been so successful that they need to open it up to people who have kitchens but who don't know how to cook. That is a major problem for many people in poverty. In working with the EBT program in Spokane County at the farmers' market, I know there is hard fast rule that benefits cannot be, in any circumstance, used for hot, prepared foods. I think that's a good thing, but I'd like to see more resources go into helping people in need develop skills for preparing healthy meals with low cost fresh foods subsidized by the government. Another helpful direction would be to help people learn to grow their own foods and preserve them. Ironically, the local food movement that is much maligned as elitist, is the cultural resource that is best able to help people poverty develop these skills.
The Food Sense program in Spokane County is a doing some of this important work.