Some restaurants petition to accept food stamps

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - What would you think about restaurants accepting food stamps? Five states allow it for homeless people and those who can't physically cook. Some restaurants have petitioned the State of Virginia to allow them to accept food stamps.

Since the economy tanked in 2007, food stamp recipients in Virginia have shot up 89%, from 232,000 households to 438,000.

Now some restaurants want to be allowed to accept food stamps. The Department of Social Services says that Yum! Brands, which operates Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, petitioned Virginia to let them accept food stamps. Five other states already allow it for the homeless, the elderly, and disabled people: California, Arizona, Michigan, Rhode Island, and Florida. Kentucky said no. Ohio will decide next year.

Richmond area restaurants we asked say they like the idea.

"I think it opens a new market for us and we'd love to have it," responded Rhoda Elliott, owner of Bill's Barbecue.

Federal rules prohibit the use of food stamps for prepared foods, not even a pre-made sandwich. But some restaurant owners say they can offer a healthier meal than some foods you can buy with food stamps, like a bag of chips.

"If they come here, they will actually get a hot meal. They will get a more nutritious meal. Even if they opted not for french fries, if they got baked beans, a wonderful, nutritional food, baked apples, and all restaurants have those kinds of choices," Elliott said.

Randolf-Macon College's Director of Student Health agrees that even fast food restaurants offer healthy options, like salads and fruit, but eating healthy would depend on choices made.

"Certainly we know that fast food has a higher caloric value than say something that we might prepare ourselves. With that comes higher sodium intake, higher sugar intake, all of which affect cholesterol, blood pressure, your heart health," explained Kara Daniel.

Food stamp recipients would also have to budget, as restaurant foods tend to be more expensive than grocery store foods.

"You get a pay check. It doesn't mean you spend all the money on shopping. You control your shopping portion, you pay your mortgage, so you divide it for this as well," said Eunice Kim, owner of the Piano Cafe.

But the Department of Social Services says it's not actively exploring Yum! Brands' request. The reason: the cost of changing contracts with all their vendors. But restaurants have a financial stake, too. $1.3 billion in food stamps were redeemed in Virginia last year.

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