Food Stamps for Fast Food in Fresno County?

FRESNO, Calif.

Under the "Cal Fresh Restaurant Meals Program" a small percentage of those who receive food assistance with EBT cards (which have replaced food stamps) would be eligible to participate.

The idea is to give the elderly and disabled who are unable to cook for themselves, and the homeless, who have no place to cook, the opportunity to have a hot meal.

Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea thinks the program would be good for those who need it. "So for the meager amount of money they get every month for a food allowance is it okay for them to go get a piece of chicken, or a hamburger, I would say yeah."

It's a welcome idea to Nate Reece. He lives in a neighborhood of sheds, installed by the City of Fresno to help house the homeless. Reece says living without having a stove or refrigerator limits his grocery shopping choices. "I usually get like beef jerky, I'll get bread, peanut butter and jelly."

Nate and hundreds of others can get hot meals at the Fresno Rescue Mission, or the Poverello House. Rescue Mission Director Larry Arce is concerned that if the program is approved the homeless will flock to fast food restaurants. "Will the homeless go to fast food restaurants and get food that's not necessarily good for them."

But Steve Rodriguez Deputy Director of the County Social Services Department says even fast food with salads and chicken could mean better choices for many. "Compared to what some of the homeless people get these days, it could be one of the healthier meals they get."

But County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian doesn't like the idea of folks using their food subsidy to go out to eat. "I just feel eating out at a restaurant is a luxury, I don't think that was the original intent of food stamps."

But Nate says on the $5 or $6 a day he gets for food, there wouldn't be much dining out. "Fast food isn't cheap. But, I'd probably use it at KFC but that would be it, because I'm not a hamburger fan."

The California Restaurant Association is urging the Board of Supervisors to approve the program. It would not cost the county anything, and recipients would not receive any additional compensation to buy food at restaurants.

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