As the current recession continues and millions of jobless Americans are seeing their incomes and wealth disappear, the food stamp program has increased dramatically. The number of participating households has almost doubled since 2005, and the amount of money spent on the program has tripled to $65 billion annually in the same time period. Fast food conglomerate Yum! Brands wants in on this gravy train, and is now lobbying states to allow fast food franchises to accept the stamps.
USA Today reports: “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.”
So, states can allow restaurants to accept food stamps from certain populations that may have difficulty preparing food for themselves. Yum! — which owns such staples as Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut and various combinations thereof — realized that if more states activated this loophole, then they could cater to the eligible populations, and bring in taxpayer-subsidized revenue. They’ve therefore spearheaded a lobbying effort to get states to change their laws.
This is kind of a mixed bag for people on all sides of the issue. The Coalition for the Homeless supports Yum!’s lobbying efforts, noting that “This would allow people to get a reduced price meal.” For those who cannot cook for themselves, it seems to make sense that they be allowed to purchase low cost food from restaurants.
At the same time, though, anti-obesity advocates counter that the kinds of food sold at fast food establishments could hardly be considered nutritious given their fat, salt and sugar content. The director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity called these plans “preposterous.” Clinical dietician Timi Gustafson draws connections between fast-food and obesity, an increasingly problematic public health epidemic.
At the very least, is disturbing that fast food is being presented as the best way to provide the homeless and elderly with supplemental nutrition. In this case, it takes a fast-food lobby to make people realize that many segments of the American population are not having their needs met by current policies. Thankfully, this public flap has provided policy makers and citizens an opportunity to reexamine who are really benefiting from government nutritional policies.
Photo credit: JoDickson.