Plan to allow Fresno County residents to use welfare food benefits at restaurants moving forward

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A plan to allow some of Fresno County's poorest residents to use their welfare food benefits at restaurants is moving forward. Two of the supervisors did not like the idea of food stamp money going to restaurants, but three others supported it because the program is aimed at helping those without places to cook or live.

The idea that those who receive CalFresh, or food stamp benefits, should be able to buy a sandwich at a restaurant with those benefits did not sit well with Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, because, she pointed out, shopping at a store is a better deal. "Don't we want to encourage people to get the most out of their $141-- whatever it is-- encourage them to get the most of their money?"

Laura Moreno of the Department of Social Services agreed, but noted, not everyone can shop or prepare food. "And yes, Supervisor Poochigian, you can definitely buy more at a grocery store, but, it's really difficult for a homeless person to go to that grocery store and carry those items with them."

In addition, in many neighborhoods the only stores that sell any kind of food are convenience stores, which have limited selection and high prices.

The Department of Social Services notes there are a quarter of a million Fresno County residents receiving food assistance. About 20,000 who are disabled, aged, or homeless might qualify for the program allowing them to go to an approved restaurant. Supervisor Brian Pacheco thought it was a good idea. "To allow those people who don't have a refrigerator, that do have a hard time preparing a meal another avenue, and, provide them some dignity as well, as they try to feed themselves every day."

In addition to helping those folks, the goal is to help local businesses. Manny Sandhu owns 10 Subway restaurants and he is eager to apply to get his shops qualified for the program. "Yes, it will help the people and help the business owners too."

Supervisors Buddy Mendes and Henry Perea sponsored the measure and joined Pacheco in voting for it. Poochigan was joined by supervisor Andreas Borgeas in voting against the program. The County must now apply to the state for approval and it could take several months to implement.

Programs like this are offered in just seven California counties, and the number of restaurants taking part are limited because they must meet standards for nutrition and value.
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