What good is having access to groceries if you don’t have a way to prepare meals with them?
What if you’re disabled or a senior citizen and you can’t physically prepare meals or you don’t know how? Or what if you’re homeless, and you have no stove or refrigerator to store and prepare meals?
Under existing state law, individuals in those situations can use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to buy the ingredients. But that does them no good if they can’t make hot, nutritious meals out of them.
Legislation pending in Albany (A1524/S0064) would address that issue by requiring the state to participate in the federal Restaurant Meals Program (RMP). Under the federal RMP, participating grocery stories, delis and restaurants provide fully cooked or prepared meals to those who need them. Under RMP, participating restaurants must offer meals at “concession prices,” a provision contained in New York’s legislation.
Only in the past few years have states begun to make restaurant meals eligible for use by SNAP recipients.
In California’s Orange County, which instituted a pilot program in 2018, about 200 restaurants currently participate – mainly fast-food restaurants. Under Arizona’s program, every person in the household must meet specific conditions.
For example, to qualify as a disabled person, individuals must be receiving Social Security benefits or other disability payments. To qualify as elderly, recipients must be at least 60 years old. To qualify as homeless, the individual must not have a fixed or regular nighttime residence.
In addition to providing a hot meal to those in need, the program also helps small businesses and grocery stores by opening up a new revenue source, since those businesses in New York are currently not allowed to accept EBT cards for prepared meals. This bill could help businesses struggling under the pandemic get new customers.
We understand why some might be hesitant to support expanding this benefit.
They might feel that people on public assistance shouldn’t be entitled to full, cooked meals while others not receiving aid have to cook their meals themselves.
But this program only applies to a narrow population of SNAP recipients, those most in need and those least likely to be able to prepare meals themselves.
It’s a move rooted not just in compassion, but for many of these individuals, it’s rooted in necessity.
The state Senate passed the bill earlier in the month, and the Assembly just passed it on Monday, virtually ensuring it would be passed on to the governor.
For those on public assistance who can’t prepare their own meals, state participation in this federal program can’t come soon enough.