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Lawmaker wants to ban EBT fast food purchases

Jack in the Box EBTCalling it bad use of public funds, a Mesa lawmaker wants to bar people from using their public benefits cards on fast food.

“If you’ve got a budget crisis and you are looking out for ways to reduce your costs, you stop eating out and you buy your food from the grocery store,” said Rep. Kelly Townsend of Mesa. Fast food, she said, is not a bargain.

“If you go to Jack in the Box, the meal is going to cost you $7,” she continued. “You could have taken that $7 and gotten a gallon of milk and a box of Cheerios or something that will last you.”

Her legislation adds fast-food or quick service restaurants to the list of where benefit cards cannot be used. The current list includes liquor stores, casinos and “adult-oriented entertainment.”

But HB2051 is drawing concern from the Arizona Center for Disability Law. J.J. Rico, the organization’s executive director, said there are some people who simply don’t have the ability to prepare their own food.

He pointed out that the food stamp program, administered through the same electronic benefits card issued by the Department of Economic Security, specifically allows the disabled, elderly and homeless to buy fast food and not just grocery store items.

“The concern to us is if somebody lacks the ability or the means to cook their own meal, that’s kind of their use of how to get food,” Rico said.

Townsend, however, is undeterred.

“I don’t know that just driving through the Taco Bell is the answer,” she said. Townsend said she believe there are other programs, like Meals on Wheels, that can fill in the gaps.

The second-term lawmaker said the relative cost of fast food versus grocery store items is just one issue. Just as significant, she said, is the question of exactly what the benefits are buying.

“We all know what’s in that fast food,” Townsend said. “And taxpayers don’t want to subsidize junk food.”

Beyond that, she said unhealthy eating leads to obesity which leads to health problems – which leads to expensive medical care provided by the state.

Rico, however, said that, for some people, it’s not that simple.

“Fast food, regardless of the nutritional value, is a way to get food that’s cooked and ready to go,” he said. “We would want a person with a disability to have access to that meal if that was their preference.”

Townsend, however, said she’s not buying the argument that fast food is the only option.

“I don’t believe that,” she said. “I don’t see that there’s any excuse to say that is the only system to get food and we should have taxpayers paying for it.”


  1. Angelina Carroll

    Most grocery store have a deli that offer hot prepared food that is better and cheaper than a fast food place. We didn’t allow them to purchase fast food for a long time before and they were fine. If I can’t afford to have fast food but contribute plenty of taxes to pay for others to eat then they should not have luxury convenience food. I do not make a small enough amount to get assistance but just scrape by on what I have. I go get a food box if I really need to. Eat can food or dry food that is easy obtained and prepared. Not fair to those of us in between the struggle lines.

  2. If a person is physically able to go to a fast food place, place their order and pick it up they are more than able enough to heat up a frozen dinner, make a sandwhich out of cold cuts and bread, etc. There is absolutely no excuse for taxpayers to be funding junk food for the poor. What have these people been eating before fast food places started taking EBT cards? I don’t recall hearing about anyone on foodstamps starving to death from a lack of Jack-in-the-Box. If you’re gonna eat on my dime, you’re going to eat cheaper, healthier food.

  3. Poor People are People too

    That’s brilliant – now all the disabled and homeless can go on the Raw Food Diet.

    I suppose it never occurred to Rep. Townsend that a lot of poor people don’t have the ways or means to cook their own meals? Some people just lack the brain power to think things through . . . . doesn’t keep them from getting elected in Arizona, though.

    “Beyond that, she said unhealthy eating leads to obesity which leads to health problems – which leads to expensive medical care provided by the state.”

    Okay then – let’s triple the EBT stipend so everyone can buy salmon, fresh fruit, and quinoa at Whole Foods. What an idiot. I’d l like to see her try and feed her family for a month on food stamps. I bet she couldn’t stretch it for one week. Food prices and their nutritional values are inversely proportional, and anyone running for office should be educated enough to know that. Here – I’ll translate: Bad food cheap; Good food unaffordable.

  4. This is truly appalling and shows an incredible lack of compassion for our elderly and disabled citizens.

    The level of benefits doesn’t change no matter where the food is purchased – so there is no net difference in the cost to the government.

    I challenge Rep. Townsend to live without access to a kitchen for a week, while she is limiting herself to a wheelchair and public transportation, while living in a community that is not in the Phoenix or Tucson metro area and see exactly how difficult she would make this for a population that will likely not be exiting the EBT system anyways.

  5. Wonderful idea! Nutritious foods will the be purchased to give the body what it needs and prevent or heal diseases. Processed foods cause cancer, diabetes, etc. They are NOT food.
    As the saying goes, there is food or junk. There is no junk food.

  6. Hey I had foodstamps when they were the fake money. And you could not use them at a fast food or even a grocery store for prepared cooked food, like in the hot case.

    I have no problem with this rule. Because some people simply do not manage money, and in their ‘indulgence’ to do this, and their poor math skills, suddenly are out of funds and they have 2 weeks until the next EBT. I think they should return to the paper foodstamps. Peple really KNEW visually what they had left!

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with Rep. Townsend’s proposal! There is nothing redeeming about fast food, other than it is fast (usually … been to Wendys lately?) J.J. Rico apparently doesn’t have either the personal responsibility nor the drive to perform ANY sort of research to find alternatives … like purchasing already prepared meals from the supermarkets, or as was mentioned, Meals on Wheels

  8. “gotten a gallon of milk ” Which a homeless person is suppose to keep refrigerated . . . how?

    More mindbogglingly ignorant twaddle from someone born with a silver-spoon in their mouth that has never missed a meal in their life going on about what is best for everyone. God forbid that someone on the street wants a hot meal once in a while instead of eating directly out of unheated cans.

  9. Meals on Wheels is prohibitively expensive and does not feed the homeless.
    Food stamps cannot be used for hot deli food from grocery stores.
    Using food stamps for fast food may not be the healthiest choice nor the most economical, but since when are we concerned about either of these issues for the majority of the populace? NEVER. This is just another hateful and discriminatory measure against our community’s most vulnerable members.
    The homeless can’t store or prepare foods. Many elderly and disabled on food stamps cannot cook for themselves.
    When can we start electing people with engaged brain matter, please?

  10. I rented a room without kitchen privileges. Making and eating in my car gets old especially on cold days mostly Jack in the Box I wish grocery store delis or healthier options existed.

  11. the stupid thing is most of the food you can buy with ebt is junk food , yes i can get cottage chese or buy a salad or even a nasty tunafish sandwich offered at convenient stores and they are over priced , i am homeless so cant always cook , mmm a can of cold soup or chilli , really. fast food isnt the best but alot of times when i have a few bucks i order from bk or mcd dollar menu , and getting milk or things that go bad quickly unrefridgerated not an option , if i could get something precooked say from a walmart deli or wholefoods that would be great.

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