More Americans can use food stamps for restaurants, prepared meals

 

by Caitlin Dewey, The Counter

01.10.2022

 

A growing contingent of advocates and academics have warned that many Americans no longer have the time, skills, resources or physical ability to prepare the kinds of recipes lawmakers envisioned at the launch of SNAP.

 

Maryland resident Rhona Reiss began speaking out about gaps in the food stamp program the day she learned it wouldn’t cover rotisserie chicken. Under long-standing federal policy, benefits can’t be used to buy hot or prepared foods—even for older adults like Reiss, who is 77.

 

But that policy is shifting in Maryland and in states across the country. In the past two years, six states have opted in to a little-used federal program that allows older adults to use their food benefits on select, low-cost restaurant meals.

 

The Restaurant Meals Program, as it’s known, also covers people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness. The program is most widely available in California and Arizona, with newer entrants such as Maryland and Illinois still ramping up their operations.

 

Nutrition experts and advocates say the program’s sudden growth is part of a larger push to expand access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, during the pandemic, as well as an overdue reckoning around home-cooking and federal nutrition aid. American anti-hunger policy has long assumed that the best way to feed hungry people is to encourage them to cook for themselves.

 

But a growing contingent of advocates and academics have warned that many Americans no longer have the time, skills, resources or physical ability to prepare the kinds of recipes lawmakers envisioned at the launch of the nutrition assistance program, which in 2021 distributed $108 billion in benefits. Reiss, who now volunteers with the Montgomery County Food Council in Maryland, has testified to the state legislature about friends with arthritis too severe to hold a knife, and acquaintances whose homes lack full, working kitchens.

 

“We just sort of ignore the fact that there are populations that don’t have the means to prepare or store food,” said Mohammed Aly, the executive director of the Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition, which fought to expand the Restaurant Meals Program in California, “and that literally the most poor and the most disabled among us are completely left out of our nationwide hunger assistance program.”

 

“The fact that only a handful of states have heard of this program or have implemented it in any fashion—that absolutely needs to change.”

 

Restaurant Meals has, however, faced challenges and opposition...

 

‘It’s a lifesaver’ ...

 

Pushback and delays ...

 

Next steps ...

 

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https://thecounter.org/food-stamps-snap-restaurants-prepared-hot-meals/