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County looks at adding restaurants to food-stamps program

January 6, 2011 - 4:54 pm

In the past, San Diego County’s been criticized for low enrollment in its food-stamps program and the county Board of Supervisors for their perceived antipathy towards poor people. But, in the last few weeks, there have been some pretty cool developments:

In July, the supervisors asked the county’s Social Services Advisory Board to put together a working group tasked with drawing up recommendations for improving access to food stamps. That group included folks on the front lines of poverty issues, like Joni Halpern (Supportive Parents Information Network), Bill Oswald (Caring Council), Jennifer Tracy (San Diego Hunger Coalition) and Gregory Knoll (Legal Aid). The result of several work-group meetings was a report that looked very similar to one Halpern and Oswald presented to the supervisors in April 2009. This time, though, the supervisors agreed, in mid-December, to consider the recommendations [pdf].

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, the board will vote whether to join the Restaurant Meals Program, a statewide program started in 2004 that gives counties discretion over whether to participate. The program allows seniors, disabled and homeless folks to use their electronic-benefits card at local restaurants to get meals at a discounted price. According to a staff report:

Unfortunately, a segment of our eligible [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] population struggles daily to use the benefit to acquire hot or prepared food. They may be without a residence, lack a proper cooking appliance or deal with a handicap that limits their ability to prepare certain foods.

Tim McClain, spokesperson for Supervisor Ron Roberts, said the proposal was a joint effort between Roberts and Supervisor Bill Horn. Roberts’ advocacy is a no-brainer—he’s the most open-minded of his colleagues when it comes to social-services issues. Horn is a bit of a surprise, though McClain told me that the San Diego County Restaurant Association is who brought the program to the supervisors’ attention. It’s regarded as business friendly and has attracted nearly 1,000 participating restaurants in L.A. Granted, there’s been criticism over the fact that places like Pizza Hut, Jack in the Box and Kentucky Fried Chicken accept food stamps—chains are the main participants.

“To participate, restaurants will have to go through a sign-up program created by the county,” McClain said. “Healthy food options should be plentiful.”

In addition to L.A. County, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Sacramento and Tuolumne counties also participate in the Restaurant Meals program.

With a majority of board next Tuesday, the county’s chief administrative office will report back in three months on the feasibility, timeline, costs and resources required to implement the program.

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