Should people be able to buy restaurant meals with EBT? The Restaurant Meals Program began in 1977 and has had a very controversial history. Many people feel strongly that it should be banned, while others are just as adamant that it should be available nationwide.
For more information about this program and how it works, visit our Restaurant Meals Program guide to find out what states participate, who is eligible and which restaurants accept EBT.
Why People Should Be Able to Buy Restaurant Meals with EBT
The arguments in favor of the Restaurant Meals Program are usually based on practicality and the idea that any food is better than no food at all. Here are a few reasons why people say “yes, people should be able to buy restaurant meals with EBT.”
It’s about eliminating hunger.
The overall goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is to eliminate hunger. Hungry people need food. Any food is better than no food.
This is a leading reason why many people support allowing people to buy fast food with food stamps. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it gets food to people quickly.
Fast food can be cheaper than homemade.
A cheeseburger from a fast food restaurant can cost as little as $2. However, to make the same meal at home would cost much more because you would have to purchase the beef, buns, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sauces and other ingredients.
In some cases, it can be significantly cheaper to purchase fast food. This is especially true if you don’t have anywhere to store the remaining ingredients that would be leftover after your meal.
Some people don’t have time to cook.
Many low income Americans who rely on SNAP are working multiple jobs, raising children, attending school, providing care for relatives and juggling many different priorities. Some of them simply don’t have the time to cook.
The current USDA guidelines for nutrition and budgeting require a household to spend a lot of time cooking. In fact, a recent study by Virginia Tech food and health economist George Davis found that the average household would have to make major changes in order to meet those guidelines. Specifically, they would have to reduce their working hours by 25% in order to spend more time cooking.
That does not help people rise out of poverty. It keeps them trapped in it, by requiring them to work less so they can spend more time in the kitchen.
The program is limited to those who need it.
Currently, the Restaurant Meals Program is only available to those who cannot safely prepare or store their own food at home. Specifically, it serves seniors over age 60, disabled people and those who are homeless.
Since the program only serves those who cannot prepare their own meals, it makes it easier for others to accept that some people should be able to buy fast food with EBT because they simply don’t have any other options.
The Argument Against It
Of course, there are many people who are vehemently opposed to the idea. When asked why people should not be able to buy fast food with EBT, here are some common responses.
Taxpayers shouldn’t pay for restaurant meals.
Many taxpayers are upset when they hear that certain people can buy fast food and restaurant meals with food stamps. This is especially true of middle income earners, who may feel like they are paying for someone else to enjoy a luxury that they themselves cannot afford.
On Quora, user Angel Nowak observed, “Some people think those of us on food stamps deserve nothing but bread and water. They think we’re stealing money from them and so they (think they) have the right to tell us what crappy, barely edible food we deserve to have.”
Restaurant meals aren’t as healthy as homemade.
Other arguments against allowing people to purchase restaurant meals with EBT include the notion that restaurant meals aren’t healthy. Many health care advocates were very upset when Yum! Brands tried to expand the Restaurant Meals Program nationwide because they felt than an expansion would do a disservice to the health of those involved.
However, malnutrition is also unhealthy so this is a difficult issue to balance.
Benefits don’t last long at restaurants.
The average food stamps allotment is actually quite low and restaurant meals are generally more expensive than groceries. Those who argue against this program are quick to point out that people will be able to buy more food at the grocery store than at a restaurant.
However, this is a tricky situation for those who do not have anywhere to store groceries. For example, those who are homeless cannot store groceries long-term so they do not buy in bulk and they don’t stock up on cheap staples. They tend to purchase convenience foods at the grocery store anyway, which may be less nutritious and more expensive than comparable restaurant meals.
In summary, there are many good arguments for and against the expansion of this program. As always, the matter is left for the states and governments to decide.
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