USDA: No food stamps at restaurants

USDA: No food stamps at restaurants
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The Obama administration is looking to block low-income families from using food stamps at restaurants.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed Tuesday to crack down on restaurants that it says are masquerading as grocery stores so they can participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Food stamps are intended to help low-income families buy nutritious groceries, but some recipients are using them at restaurants, the agency said.

"Congress specifically did not intend for restaurants to participate,” the USDA wrote in the Federal Register.

"Some of these retailers operate primarily as restaurants, not retail food stores,” the agency wrote. "Nothing in current regulations specifically prohibits items sold for SNAP benefits that are cold at the point-of-sale from being heated or cooked in the store after purchase."

The USDA is particularly concerned about pizza joints skirting the rules.

“Some pizza restaurants, for example, have been deemed eligible with pizza as the qualifying staple food based on the primary ingredient (bread),” the agency said.

“After selling cold pizza to SNAP customers, these firms subsequently heat the pizza and then have ultimately sold hot food from their pizza-restaurant location,” it added.

To root out these restaurants, the rules would require 85 percent of a store’s food sales not be “cooked or heated on-site before or after purchase.”

The USDA is also requiring grocery stores to sell more varieties of healthy foods.

The public has 60 days to comment.