From The Center Square:
Illinois lawmakers move to allow elderly SNAP recipients to use benefits at restaurants
Illinois lawmakers want to change state rules for federal food assistance to allow elderly recipients to use the benefits at some restaurants as part of what’s described as the broadest expansion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allowable under federal law.
The bill would allow for disabled, homeless and people 60 and older, along with an eligible spouse living with them, to redeem SNAP benefits, commonly called food stamps, at restaurants that enroll in a newly-formed Restaurant Meals Program.
Supporters said it would be the widest expansion of benefits allowable under federal laws.
State Rep. Sonya Harper, the Chicago Democrat show sponsored the bill, said it would give people who would not otherwise have access a way to get a warm, prepared meal.
“We know SNAP helps people buy food at the grocery store that is meant to be prepared at home,” she said.
“However, for people who don’t have access to a kitchen or a place to store food or who may have physical barriers to use their kitchen safely, the traditional use of these SNAP funds is not effective.”
State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said he understood the need for the homeless and disabled to have prepared food, but raised concerns about further expanding the program.
“I’m not sure we can make that same assumption about an individual that, just because they’re over the age of 60, that they’re unable to prepare their own food,” he said.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, who voted for the bill, said the program wouldn’t expand benefits. Rather, it would diversify how the benefits could be redeemed.
“We’re not talking about some huge amount of money,” she said.
“Folks on SNAP benefits pinch every penny and limp their way to the end of the month. We’re talking about the ability to get hot food when you’re not able to get it.”
Demmer, along with all others on the committee, ultimately supported passage of the bill to the House floor.
There were more than 200,000 Illinois households with at least one elderly resident who was eligible for food stamps at the end of 2018, according to a representative of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Those people wouldn’t be eligible if living with a non-qualified spouse.
The bill now awaits a House vote before being sent to the Senate for consideration.
If enacted, the state would have until Jan. 1, 2020, to start accepting participating restaurants.
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The Chicago Tribune article on the subject adds,
But Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, chief sponsor of Illinois’ bill, said she expects few fast food chains locally to be interested in participating.
Instead, she is focused on people being able to use their benefits to buy prepared food from the hot bars at grocery stores, where they already are accustomed to shopping.
Harper – who said she herself used SNAP for about two years when she struggled to find a job after dropping out of law school because she was pregnant – said she knows from experience how frustrating it is to not be able to grab a plate of fried chicken and mac and cheese from a store’s prepared food section.