More Stores Now Accepting Food Stamps

USA Today reported this week that many more retailers, including Costco, Target and 7-Eleven, now accept food stamps.

Dollar General and other value-focused stores say their earnings have been stable during the recession partly because they participate in the federal food stamp program, now called the "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program" or SNAP.

To qualify, stores must meet one of the following criteria:

  • They regularly sell at least three varieties of foods in each of four categories -- breads/cereals; dairy products; fruits and vegetables; and meat, fish or poultry -- and at least two of the categories must include perishable foods.
  • Or more than half of total gross sales must be in "staple foods," which means no candy, soft drinks or prepared foods.

The number of Americans and American retailers who rely on food stamps is growing, as this United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data shows.

An estimated 39 million Americans currently receive food stamps, also referred to as "electronic benefit transfers" (EBT). States such as Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, Vermont and Washington have seen about a 30 percent (and in some cases more) growth in the number of people using food stamps in the last year.

Nationally, the numbers have risen nearly 20 percent in the last year. The percentage would likely be even higher if everyone who was eligible took advantage of SNAP. 

The USDA provides additional information:

  • In 2005, it served 25.7 million people a month and cost $28.6 billion

  • In 2000, it served 17.2 million people a month and cost $17.1 billion

  • In 1995, it served 26.6 million people a month and cost $24.6 billion

  • In 1990, it served 20.1 million people a month and cost $15.5 billion

  • in 1985, it served 19.9 million people a month and cost $11.7 billion

  • In 1980, it served 21.1 million people a month and cost $9.2 billion

  • In 1975, it served 17.1 million people a month and cost $4.6 billion

  • In 1970, it served 4.3 million people a month and cost $577 million.

Here are some food stamp eligibility guidelines, as well as links to related information:

The USDA also provides a breakdown of what you can and cannot buy using SNAP:

Households CAN use SNAP benefits to buy:

    • Foods for the household to eat, such as:
      • Breads and cereals
      • Fruits and vegetables
      • Meats, fish and poultry
      • Dairy products
    • Seeds and plants [that] produce food for the household to eat.

Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:

    • Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco
    • Any nonfood items, such as:
      • Pet foods;
      • Soaps, paper products
      • Household supplies
    • Vitamins and medicines
    • Food that will be eaten in the store.
    • Hot foods

Looking back throughout the years, it's clear that the amount of people receiving food stamps has in most cases grown, as this historical state-by-state data shows.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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