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Food Stamps at Fast Food Restaurants

Updated on October 15, 2011
We Accept EBT Cards (at KFC??)
We Accept EBT Cards (at KFC??)

One of the most basic rules of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known by its old name, Food Stamps, is that you cannot buy hot prepared food with SNAP benefits.

However, in Phoenix, and in other cities around the United States, there are a small number of people who may be qualified to use their SNAP benefits at participating restaurants.

As a matter of fact, there are some states where all food stamp recipients can purchase restaurant food with SNAP benefits. However, this hub focuses on the pilot programs in Phoenix and three other cities.

As expected, recipients of the nutritional government aid program are hoping that the new rule will be extended to all, and restaurants cannot wait to finally get a piece of the pie…especially since current estimates show that more than 45 million people receive this form of government aid..

But. . . also as expected, this new rule is causing a huge controversy all around the country with thousands of people asking and wondering. . . "Should people be allowed to use food stamps at restaurants?"

Where is it Allowed?

Currently, there are four states that offer the program: Arizona, California, Florida, and Michigan.

In these states, the pilot program will allow people who cannot cook their own food to use their SNAP benefits at restaurants.

YUM Brands, Inc., the gigantic company behind such restaurants as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Wing Street, is currently the largest supporter of the push to make their hot, prepared fast food available to everyon with an EBT card.

Who is Eligible?

As I mentioned earlier, the pilot program is available to people who, for one reason or another, cannot cook for himself or herself, or for whom it is difficult to cook.

Homeless people, disabled people, and some senior citizens are allowed to use their food stamps at restaurants.

Think about how difficult it must be for a homeless person to try to find ways to cook for themselves. Also, what if a person has a disability or is too feeble to be able to cook independently?

Apparently, the program has proven to be a huge asset for the group of people it targets...but what about all other SNAP benefit recipients?

What is the Controversy?

Currently, there are two schools of thought for the opposition of food stamps in fast food restaurants. There is a nutritional argument, and there is a privilege argument (Yes, really...)

Nutritional Argument

Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease can be directly linked to overconsumption of fast food. If you have ever watched Supersize Me you know that the constant consumption (30 days) of McDonalds food caused irreversible damage to the health of the host of the show.

Some people believe that it is irresponsible for the government to fund a program that allows easier access to fatty and salty fast foods.

If you think about it, their position makes good sense. . . but then, we all know (or at least we all should know) that too much government control is a slippery slope

Privilege Argument

Then there are a group of people who believe that the purchase of fast food should only be allowed to those people who can “afford it.”

Their basic argument is that a trip to a fast food restaurant is a privilege that only people with jobs and money should be able to enjoy.

This argument is weak and ridiculous, and it makes the proponents of the argument seem silly and an incredibly petty.

In a news article, one woman actually had the nerve to say, “I don’t want to have to sit in a restaurant next to people who get to use food stamps to buy their meals when I had to work hard to earn the money that I spend on my meals.”

The fact is that many working adults are eligible for SNAP benefits, these are the people who do not earn a living wage, and they work just as hard as anyone else (and probably harder, because low wage jobs usually require manual labor).

This line of thinking is so wrong on so many levels, but it all boils down to the fact that certain people will always look down on people who are poor. No one takes this argument seriously.

In Conclusion

Dr. Linda Vaughn, director of the School of Nutrition and Health at Arizona State University (ASU) says that even though fast food restaurants are adding healthier items to their menu, their food is still less than nutritious.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security (AZ DES) concedes that the program is not perfect, but they do not want to tell people what they can eat (slippery slope).

Furthermore, AZ DES cautions that food stamps will not go far if they are being used constantly at fast food restaurants, so eligible participants should spend wisely and keep an eye on their EBT card receipts in order to keep tabs on their balance.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting article and comments from everyone. I happen to live in Arizona, receive SNAP benefits and be disabled. For me this program would be a blessing(as I am not yet on it). I think everyone here has made respectful and reasonable arguments. My opinion is that those who are going to make poor food choices/spending choices are always going to make poor choices. And those who make good choices will continue to make good choices even when eating out. Unfortunately you can never change people. I have seen many neighbors horribly misuse SNAP/ Social Security/ ETC. I on the other hand tend to be frugal, budget and try to help me and my family eat well. It's frustrating to watch others buy soda and processed crap with their benefits, to eat a lot at the beginning of the month and run out of food at the end. These same people will undoubtedly and obviously misuse hot food benefits. They do so for so many reasons. They are not mentally capable or they were never taught how to cook or budget. That is the slippery slope. The government can not control what people eat and even if they tried they would be horribly inefficient at it. And those of us who do scrape by, doing the right thing should not be punished for those who don't. Frankly this program would help me eat healthier and I hope it goes everywhere for everyone.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      There is also the problem of food vaccums.

      In many rural and inner city areas there are no supermarkets but there are convienance stores and Fast Food and --if you are lucky -- one sit down place. Usually next to a gas station.

      If that is all there is, is there any real choice?

      I know areas in Arizona, California, and Florida that fit my above description. Some in 'major' cities.

      Sorry never spent time in Michigan.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I may come off harsh and I'm sorry if I do, but as long as folks that are on assistance legitimately they should be able to buy whatever they want FOOD wise.

      Here's where the harsh part comes in, yes they should be able to buy whatever they want, but their stipends should remain the same. Fast Food can get expensive, rather than cooking a meal that can last up to several days.

    • monicamelendez profile image


      7 years ago from Salt Lake City

      I only eat fresh, whole food and rarely eat out. It would be easy to say that eating out is a privilege and they don't need to do it. But, that said, I don't know if I'm cool with the government telling them what kinds of food they can buy.

      I know that I will be feeding my kiddos fresh, whole food.

    • profile image

      little greatfull mama 

      7 years ago

      I have to say that the snap program was designed to give people access to healthier food choices. We all know that fast food is not healthy...There is no wiggle room on this issue!!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      An earlier poster said "food is food and money is money. I vehemently disagree! I believe in the SNAP program and in he;ping people. No one should have to go hungry in a country like ours.

      BUT, spending my tax dollars on unhealthy, junk food and fast food, that is especially bad for children. That is crazy, wrong, and we should all be screaming at the top of our lungs about it.

      Another poster said it would be awfully handy to be able to use SNAP benefits when in a hurry on the way to the doctor's or hospital. I don't understand. Why would anyone feed their child unhealthy crap on the way to the doctor or hospital?

      Yes you are in a hurry, we are all in a hurry. What about keeping apples, oranges, grapes, pears in your home, and nutritious bread, sliced cheese, and peanut butter. All of these can be eaten in the car when in a hurry for a third of the cost of unhealthy fast food. And they are good for your children! Just ask your doctor which he would rather your sick child eat?

      Great Hub. Sharing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i am a mother of three boys and i as well believe food is food and money is money, regardless if you all think its wrong i think its great! but.... i for one don't like to abuse the government assistance that is given to me and my children to help me out. there is always fruits and vegetables in my home hardly red meats mostly chicken and pork meats. and of course i have three boys you know i have some type of snacks but rarely bad ones. more like flavored rice cakes from quaker. the fact is its nice to go out and eat a burger once in a while but not every other day even though i receive benefits im one to appreciate the help. And one who doesn't want her children receiving help when their older being independent gentlemen is what i wish my sons to be. i try to do good by showing them to eat well and live right. but society today is to blame cause the whole system is off-the-wall

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am out of work right now due to having a daughter who needs 24/7 care. I also have 2 other children. I wish we had this in our area for those emergency moments when I don't have time to cook something, cause we're rushing to doctors or the hosp. But I also think there should be a limit on how much FS ea. month can be spent at restaurants. I know some people that would take full advantage if there wasn't.

    • SallyTX profile image

      Sally Branche 

      8 years ago from Only In Texas!

      I have to say that I tend to agree with Ardie. I am all for food stamps to help people get good nutrition, and I think the assistance they provide should be used wisely. In fact, I think that, in addition to that assistance, courses on how to shop wisely, manage a kitchen and cook should be provided. Healthy people who eat well will be a lot more likely to be successful in the world than people who spend their food allotment on fast food and then go hungry!

    • Ardie profile image


      8 years ago from Neverland

      Im torn on this. While I think money is money and food is food (like Peter said) I'd hate to know someone was getting assistance and not making the most economically wise choices with it. I do not get assistance and my husband busts his tail to keep food on the table for us and 3 kids. Fast food is NOT a privilege for us but more of an infrequent treat. I will for sure be thinking about this a lot more today. Excellent hub!

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 

      8 years ago from new jersey

      I hear the 'privilege' argument about everything now. People who use it are not intelligent enough to understand complex issues.

      Great hub!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This isn't available where I live. But, we do have a Georgia Works program where they are trying to get people off TANF and disability by going to work. As a person who does have a job and has had one for decades, I have to say it is hard to find time to cook when you work. Sometimes you are just on the go and have to grab something. I think this program would make these welfare to work programs much more successful.

    • PETER LUMETTA profile image


      8 years ago from KENAI, ALAKSA

      Food is food and money is money. What you eat is your business not the governments. Thanks for a logical look at food stamps and what you should be able to get with them. Hell most of the population is on food sramps one way or another, why not allow them to "eat like the rich folks do" and have a Taco once in a while,



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