New Law Lets Some Use SNAP Benefits At Restaurants

Jul 22, 2019

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that will allow some Supplement Nutrion Assistance Program (SNAP) - formerly known as food stamps - recipients to use benefits at restaurants.

The program will be offered to people who are elderly, homeless or have a disability. 

Nolan Downey, who is an attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, advocated for the legislation.

“For folks who are limited to traditional use of the SNAP program in which food is meant to be prepared in the home, folks in those groups who do have those challenges might not have an effective option,” he said.

Under the law, the Illinois Department of Human Services will set up the program by January 1, and the federal government will contract with restaurants that want to participate.  While the measure had broad support, some raised concerns about higher restaurant costs that could mean SNAP recipients running out of benefits sooner.

Advocates say they will begin seeking participating businesses.  

Downey said he believes the program will a huge benefit to the SNAP recipients covered in the program - those who are elderly, experiencing homeless or people who have a disability.

“We hope that many if not all of the  low-cost restaurants and grocery stores in the state would opt in," Downey said. Hot food services at grocery stores are included the Illinois legislation.

Currently, the state of Arizona and many urban counties in California have similar programs. Restaurants participating in Arizona include Subway, Jack in the Box and some Domino’s franchises.