Arizona Capitol

Some Arizona Republicans Want to Ban Use of Welfare Funds at Fast-Food Joints

At least three Republican lawmakers are looking to prevent welfare benefits from being spent at fast-food restaurants in Arizona.

The bill submitted by Republican Representative Kelly Townsend is one of a handful of bills submitted before this year's legislative session has begun. The legislation would ban the use of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, which are linked to a person's assistance money, at "fast-food or quick-service" restaurants.

Townsend told KFYI's Mike Broomhead this morning, "This is basically saying that [fast food] is not a good use of taxpayer money . . a $7 meal can get you so much more at the grocery store that is healthy for you and lasts a lot longer."

(The segment with Townsend starts at the 48:50 mark below.)

Townsend, through an assistant, tells New Times she's not doing any more interviews on the bill until it's further along in the legislative process. Again, the legislative session doesn't even start until next week.

Two other Republican co-sponsors of the bill weren't immediately available for further comment, but we'll update this post if we hear back.

On Broomhead's show, Townsend said lawmakers she's spoken to are generally supportive of the bill, and even said that one Democrat, medical doctor and Senator Eric Meyer, "agrees with what's in the bill."

She added that she expects bipartisan support, which we're guessing is more optimism than reality.

That said, this wouldn't be the first restrictions lawmakers have passed on the use of EBT cards.

In 2012, federal lawmakers banned the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, horse-racing or dog-racing facilities, casinos, or "adult-oriented businesses," and Arizona passed its own law in 2013 prohibiting that same spending.

The state auditor found that in 2012 -- before the law was in effect -- there were 1,447 transactions at "what appeared to be liquor stores," totaling $43,092. Auditors could find any other spending at the other types of businesses that were eventually banned from accepting EBT cards.

UPDATE 2:41 p.m.: Earlier today, we left a message with the Department of Economic Security, trying to find out how this bill would work, and specifically with a program that allows certain disadvantaged people to purchase fast food.

Read the explanation from DES spokeswoman Tasya Peterson below:

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are used for both the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) and the Cash Assistance Program. This bill only addresses the Cash Assistance component of EBT at this time.

The Cash Assistance program provides eligible needy families with a monthly cash grant that is to be used by the family to provide for their basic needs, such as housing expenses and clothing. This monthly cash grant is deposited into the eligible household's EBT account. The head of household, and in some cases a representative designated by the head of household, is issued an EBT card to make purchases in the same manner as one would use a debit card, or to withdraw cash from an ATM.

Current Arizona state law, ARS §46-297, prohibits the following businesses from accepting the Cash Assistance EBT card at an ATM or in a point-of-sale transaction at their business:

  • A liquor store
  • A tribal gaming facility
  • A commercial horse racing or dog racing facility
  • An adult-oriented entertainment establishment
Also, Arizona state law, ARS §5-565.01, prohibits retailers from selling lottery tickets in a Cash Assistance EBT transaction.

It is the responsibility of these businesses, and the state agencies or local municipalities that license and monitor these businesses, to ensure that the EBT prohibition is enforced.

Arizona implemented the Restaurant Meals Program in September 2007 as a federally approved option in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to provide greater access to nutritious meals for households who may have barriers to preparing and storing nutritious food. (Please note that at this time the legislation would NOT impact the Restaurant Meals Program).

This option allows households in which all members are disabled, elderly (age 60 and over), or homeless and receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP, called Nutrition Assistance in Arizona) benefits to purchase meals from participating restaurants and retailers. DES elected to implement this option because many of these SNAP households are limited in their ability to prepare hot, nutritious meals for themselves, or, in the case of households who are homeless, do not have a place to store and cook food. Only those households who meet the above qualifications are allowed to purchase meals from participating restaurants. Restaurants wishing to participate in the program must enter into an agreement with DES and submit an application for approval with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA - FNS). Arizona's EBT card is programmed so that only those cards belonging to households who meet the Restaurant Meals Program eligibility criteria will be accepted at a USDA - FNS certified restaurant.

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