WDAY: The News Leader

Published September 07, 2011, 06:38 PM

Restaurants fight for piece of food stamp pie

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Restaurants are asking for a piece of the food stamp pie.

Restaurants are asking for a piece of the food stamp pie. Traditionally stamps are only used on food that isn't hot, like frozen pizzas or cereal, but popular fast food joints are lobbying so those using money on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, or EBTs, can eat at their restaurants.

Deb Eggert relies food stamps.

Deb Eggert – Uses Food Stamps: "Pork chops and meats and stuff to make a meal."

Maria Diaz does too.

Maria Diaz – Uses Food Stamps: "Sometimes I'll get fruits and stuff from Cashwise."

But there's one problem. Eggert and Diaz say their choices are pretty limited.

Maria Diaz: "Stop and Go has the Hot and Ready stuff. You can't buy that."

Places like Papa Murphy's have already been given the okay to accept EBT, and now major fast food chains want in. To officials working in Social Services permission to use EBT at Papa Murphy’s is understandable, but fast food joints?

Mary Luhman-Olsen – Financial Assistance Supervisor: "Going out and eating at a fast food restaurant I mean it's not cost effective."

Yum! Brands owns Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. It's lobbying for the USDA to allow stamps to be exchanged for prepared food for all E-B-T users.

Deb Eggert: "A wonderful idea especially when you don't have access to your own oven, your own stove.

Maria Diaz: "At Papa Murphy's we used to but it all the time. And now we don't have an oven so it would be nice if we could go to Pizza Hut and stuff like that.

But when talking about the subject on the Jay Thomas Show on WDAY 970 AM, it seems many people say food stamps should only be used for the necessities.

Lynne – Caller on Jay Thomas Show: "It’s not helping them to teach their kids how to cook how to budget."

Bob – Caller on Jay Thomas Show: "Once you open the floodgates that far you defeat the purpose of what we are trying to do to help the underprivileged."

Right now, the idea is just being pushed by lobbyists, but it is still causing a great divide in the community.

Some states allow people to use EBT cards at restaurants, but only disabled, elderly, and homeless people.

We asked a Dietician at Sanford how she felt about using food stamps at fast food restaurants. Linda Bartholomay says it is possible to eat healthy while eating out, but it means people must be making better food choices. She says being able to eat at restaurants may actually make it harder for food stamp users to have a healthy diet. Some may skip healthy snacks to get more food for their money.

Linda Bartholomay - Dietician: "If you have a grilled chicken breast sandwich somewhere it might be two dollars or three dollars more than the cheapest cheeseburger or hamburger."

Bartholomay says for a cold, cheap, fresh option to frozen food, food stamp users can whip up deli sandwiches.