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Missouri Senate weighs allowing food stamp recipients to use benefits at restaurants

By: - March 2, 2023 6:30 am

According to Senate research, over 186,023 Missouri households would be eligible for the Restaurant Meals Program (Scott Heins/Getty Images).

The Missouri Senate took the first step Wednesday toward permitting some who qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to purchase meals at restaurants.

The Senate Progress and Development Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 313, which would allow restaurants contracted by the Missouri Department of Social Services to accept electronic benefit transfer cards to purchase meals.

The Department of Social Services will establish a “Restaurant Meals Program” as a part of the SNAP program, according to bill sponsor Sen. Angela Mosley, D-Florissant, a member of the committee. Households that have certain elderly, disabled and homeless individuals will be able to qualify for the program.

The Restaurant Meals Program is a federal program that states can opt in to and intends to give people who cannot cook for themselves and do not have kitchens to have prepared food available. Currently, those on the SNAP program in Missouri can only purchase cold and unprepared food.

Christine Woody of Empower Missouri said that the bill would not expand the program and is “a program within the SNAP program.” Woody noted that some other states which participate do not have a statewide program but have it on a smaller scale. For example, Illinois only allows use of SNAP in restaurants in specific counties.

“This is not and expansion of the welfare program, (or) an expansion of the safety net programs, it really is there to help specific populations who could really use the assistance of being able to get a hot meal that they don’t have to prepare,” Woody said.

Restaurants will not be required to accept SNAP benefits and have to apply the program to participate. Certain stipulations are in place for restaurants that want to participate like having a point-of-sale device that is programmed to accept electronic benefit transfer cards and have a signed agreement to the Federal Food and Nutrition Service according to the federal website on the program.

Jay Hardenbrook, advocacy director for AARP Missouri, noted having only allowing SNAP benefits to be used to purchase cold and unprepared food is not of value for many people.

“If you don’t have a kitchen, you can’t prepare yourself a meal,” Hardenbrook said.

The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but it died in the House.

According to Senate research, over 186,023 Missouri households would be eligible for the Restaurant Meals Program.

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It can be republished in print or online. 

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