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Yesterday, MNB took note of a USA Today report that some restaurant industry players are lobbying the US Congress to allow food stamps recipients to use them at their establishments.

According to the story, “That's a prospect that anti-hunger advocates welcome, but one that worries some current food stamp vendors and public health advocates.”

The effort apparently is being led by Yum! Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver’s and Pizza Hut.

USA Today wrote that “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.

“Between 2005 and 2010, the number of businesses certified in the SNAP program went from about 156,000 to nearly 209,000, according to USDA data ... There is big money at stake. USDA records show food stamp benefits swelled from $28.5 billion to $64.7billion in that period.”

My comment:

This is nuts.

I know “entitlement” is a dirty word these days, and for some very good reasons. That said, people who cannot afford to buy food - and there are more of them than ever - ought to have access to food stamps.

But use them to buy KFC? Or Taco Bell?

Give me a break.

MNB user Manuel R. Reyes Alfonso responded:

Just a note on behalf of MIDA (Puerto Rico grocers and food distributors) to thank you for your recent comments regarding the use of SNAP on fast food restaurants. In the case of Puerto Rico, because of our demographics, this program could divert a potential 25% of the SNAP funds to fast food restaurants on top of another unique exception that already allows participants to receive 25% of their funds in cash.  But to give you an idea on the potential impact for local grocers, distributors and even farmers, because of the economic situation of the Island, the SNAP program represents around 1/3 of total food sales.  The Puerto Rico SNAP called NAP is the second largest state allowance behind California with a budget of around $2 billion.  This also affects mainland producers because most products are imported from the US.  But most importantly, it affects the participants health and their ability to purchase enough food for the month.  Puerto Rico has an epidemic of nutrition related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart, etc, that would worsen if this is approved by USDA.  Also, in the Puerto Rico Pilot program, the average expenditure per meal was $7.03 which means the average allowance would last only 10 days leaving participants without means for the rest of the month.

MNB user John Motley chimed in:

I was pleased to read your comments on yesterday's USA Today story on restaurants wanting a piece of the SNAP pie.  While the authority for states to do this for the homeless, disabled and the elderly has been on the books since 1977, it is being used only on a limited basis in certain municipalities in Michigan, Arizona and California.  Recently, it seems that YUM Brands and Burger King have decided want to push for broader use in more states and territories.  Currently, the battle is being the waged in Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico is a unique case because SNAP recipients there already receive 25% of their benefits in cash.  Yes, that's right, in cash, and guess what, USDA says that this cash is not being spent on food.  The Commonwealth's government, urged on by the fast food industry, wants to allow ALL SNAP recipients to use their benefits to buy prepared food in fast food restaurants.  Benefits can't be used to buy a rotisserie chicken or a prepared meal in a supermarket, but they will be able to be used to buy a Big Mac or a burrito.  Most alarming is that this fast food restaurant program undermines two pillars of the SNAP program, providing healthy, nutritious food to recipients for a full month.

Kevin, NGA and a number of state grocers associations, principally Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, have communicated with Congress about this assault by YUM Brands and the National Council of Chain Restaurants.  Their efforts have born fruit in the Report language accompanying the House Agriculture Appropriations bill which strongly disapproves of continuing to fund this program.

From another MNB user:

I do not support the significantly expanded use of Food Stamps in general let alone for fast food establishments. We should offer temporary help to people in need as the original food stamp program was designed. At this time food stamps are an entitlement that keeps people dependent rather than helping people through a difficult time. There is no limit to the duration of this entitlement and laws have been passed that do not consider a recipients assets including cash on hand, investments or property when determining eligibility.

But not everyone agrees:

If they use their food stamps for something like KFC grilled chicken, or Wendy's salads,  or Taco Bell Fresco (not fried or loaded with sour cream & stuff) items, they will get a decent value for their bucks.  Taco Bell prominently posts calorie values on their order board..the Fresco items are anywhere from 150 to 300 calories per item.  What is difficult, but most important, is to somehow be able to impart both  the knowledge of what's healthful and the will to adopt the healthier choices to the Food Stamp users.

Regarding the ongoing dispute between Publix and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which was unsuccessful in its most recent effort to get Publix Super Markets to join its Campaign for Fair Food, which gets businesses to agree to pay a penny more per pound of food, money said to go to the improve farmworkers’ financial state, MNB user Rafael Bratman wrote:

The farmworkers will eventually prevail over Publix and others based on the righteousness of their cause.  Publix is going to attract much bad publicity for this snub.  The conditions of the tomato pickers of Immokalee are the modern day equivalent of slavery...

Responding to Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday about un-common sense and the importance of diverse thinking to any business, MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

Right-on! Everybody filters everything differently based on their experiences…but what we should all have in common is our desire to help ourselves…our families…our circle of friends…the company we work for…and our country… better. Better for everyone. Concentrate on what we have in common rather than on that with which we differ.

Another MNB user wrote:

Bravo! Mr. Sansolo!

Great article, I am not sure why I like this so much but I know from experience that different styles working together can accomplish great work.

Well as long as there aren’t too many of those “other” “style” people in my the group.
I hope I didn’t simply enjoy this article because we have the same or similar “styles”...

Regarding free shipping becoming more prevalent among e-commerce providers, and my ongoing contention that it will be part of the cost of doing business for any e-tailer, one MNB user wrote:

I agree with your point and would like to add one more.

The “cost of doing E-commerce” should also include the cost of collecting state sales tax, plain and simple. Even if it wouldn’t be all that simple a process it would be up to e-commerce businesses to “innovate” to make the process as effective as possible.  Then we would see if e-commerce can still compete with retailers without the “buy from me and it’s tax free” competitive advantage.

On the subject of declining American competitiveness, one MNB user wrote:

I’m surprised (and still delighted) the US has managed to hold on to a Top 5 position.  We’ve got a couple of root cause problems to fix. First, we need term limits in the Senate & House. Second, the private sector needs to balance their short term financially-centered decision making process by integrating innovation and topline growth ideation that sales & marketing functions provide. We’ve let financial incremental improvements trump prudent risk taking, so it’s no surprise we’re not seen as globally competitive. The fact is that most companies, including many who read MNB, don’t reward risk takers.

Finally, the “no smoking in bars and restaurants” debate rages on. One MNB user writes:

I think the magnitude of the response to the smoking issue is not about smoking at all – it’s about the government telling a citizen what they can/can’t do. Sadly, a point that’s been missing from the smoking discussion, and frankly a lot of other politically based discussions, is the concept of the greater good. Too often today, the arguments are individualistic and self centered, and seem to revolve around “my right to…(fill in the blank)” without regard for how exercising that right may impact others. This “my right is more important than your right” approach seems to lead to a semantic and heavily partisan discussion that, frankly, almost never has anything to do with the issue at hand. Have we forgotten the concept of sacrificing something for the betterment of society as a whole?

P.S. – My limited knowledge of law indicates that those acts which are deemed harmful/destructive to others, ! even potentially, are considered illegal (i.e. reckless driving, neglect, arson, assault, murder, etc.). Does/should smoking fall into this category? Just stirring the pot...

KC's View: