County Approves Food Stamp Use At Restaurants

Program Could Be Implemented Within 2 To 3 Months

Senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless would be able to use the electronic equivalent of food stamps in some San Diego restaurants, under a program approved by the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The board asked the county's chief administrative officer to come back with a report on the effort in 30 days.

The program, called the Restaurant Meals Program, will be operated through CalFresh, previously known as food stamps. There are more than 213,000 people currently under CalFresh in the county. Only about 10 percent of those people would be eligible under the Restaurant Meals Program.

Los Angeles County already has a similar program in place, where recipients of CalFresh can use the money at various restaurants. In Los Angeles, Jack in the Box, Subway and El Pollo Loco are among some of the participating eateries.

Many seniors and disabled people live in apartments without kitchens, making it difficult for them to prepare their own meals, Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said.

"I know a lot of seniors who live in single-room occupancy dwellings who don't have many of the amenities we assume people have in a normal apartment," she said.

Supervisor Ron Roberts said purchases would be limited to healthy, relatively inexpensive items. No alcohol could be charged.

"This is not five-star dining, to say the least," he said.

Roberts said he hoped people would the program wisely.

"This would be no different than going to the supermarket, which has healthy and not so healthy choices," he said. "I hope people understand that and hope they make healthy choices."

The program may also help prop up struggling restaurants, Supervisor Bill Horn said.

"It's a win-win for the economy and people on this program," he said.

Horn and Roberts said they were surprised no one voiced opposition to the program at Tuesday's meeting.

"It's ironic, because if this had happened last year during the election season, we would have had a couple people at the microphone yelling about something that may or may not have been valid," Roberts said. "I don't know where they are today."

Fred Glick, the president of San Diego's chapter of the Restaurant Association, said, "Any kind of extra business in this economy helps."

Some, like Richard Rider of the San Diego Tax Riders, do not believe that the program should be expanded to include restaurants.

"This program makes no sense," Rider said. "We don't need a new program to spend limited dollars -- taxpayer dollars -- which should be going for nutritious food purchased at the grocery store."

Similar programs already exist in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara and Tuolumne Counties.

Arizona, Florida, and Michigan also are authorized to take part in similar programs.

The program could be implemented within the next two to three months.