According to a Fox News station in Oregon, the Safeway supermarket chain has begun allowing patrons who have “Oregon Trail” cards — the state’s version of the supplemental nutrition assistance program — to purchase beverages and food items at Starbucks stands inside of their stores.
The change is the result of a loophole in the foodstamp program that decides what is or is not eligible for purchase with state money. Hot foods or foods that will be eaten in the store are not allowed. But for one customer, who tested the system for the Fox investigation, a cold drink like a frappuccino and a slice of pumpkin bread were approved, as long as she didn’t eat it there.
Response to the investigation has been fairly predictable, with the audience angered at this “misuse” of funds on “luxury items.” And to be fair, spending over $5 of a less than $200 monthly allotment of grocery support does seem pretty wasteful. With such a small budget, cost effective shopping is key, and a purchase such as the frappuccino and bread will have to be offset by even more meager food purchases to compensate.
But advocating against “luxury items,” which include certain drinks, snacks, baked goods and the like, sets a troubling precedent as well, especially as those who are asking that the poor be cut off from those particular grocery goods are the same who often complain of the overreaching of the government into personal lives and the growing presence of a “nanny state.”
So far, the Starbucks exception seems to be a loophole that will likely be shut down quickly by the state by the national ban on using food stamps for “fast food,” although lobbyists are looking to change that as well. But what will remain is the bigger unanswered question: how much say should the government be able to have over the food you eat, and should the poor be banned from certain items just by virtue of being poor?
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