Gioia To Costco: Accept Food Stamps
As a frigid wind blew leaves and papers into the air on Sunday, November 16, City Councilmember Eric Gioia held a press conference across the street from the Costco store on Vernon Boulevard in Astoria and called on Costco executives to reconsider their decision not to accept Food Stamps at any of their New York locations.
Standing with Gioia were New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg, Annie Cotton Morris, Woodside Houses president and district chair of all Queens public
housing organizations, and Karen Dennis, a school parent leaderfrom Long Island City.
"We have asked Costco to change their policies, to be compassionate but also to use common sense," Gioia began. "What Costco can do immediately is to help families struggling to put food on their tables. But what they can also do is help their own bottom line."
Gioia pointed out that the Vernon Boulevard Costco is located within a mile of 20,000 residents of the Queensbridge housing development and another 10,000 residents who live in the Ravenswood and Astoria developments. Costco's accepting the Food Stamp program, "would have a tremendous impact on the quality of life for those using it by making healthy food available at affordable prices".
Berg, whose coalition represents more than 100,000 people, strongly supported Gioia's proposal to Costco to start accepting Food Stamps. Berg, who has just published a book on hunger in America, said, "We're here today because Costco has a number of progressive policies, like paying their workers more. But one major gaping hole in their policies is that they don't accept benefits from what used to be called the Food Stamp Program that is now called the SNAP Program."
Begun under an executive order from then President John F. Kennedy, the Food Stamp program was designed to assist needy families in purchasing food. Now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the stamps have been replaced by a plastic debit style card. The program continues to assist poor families to put nutritious food on their tables. Berg reported that SNAP helps hundreds of thousands of people in Queens alone to purchase food. He said it is bad business for Costco to deny those with SNAP benefits to use their program at the major discount food merchant.
Morris said that families sign up for Food Stamps out of need, not by choice. She indicated that Costco could be helpful to families in need. "Costco can help more families to feed their families. Every day more and more people sign up for Food Stamps. Costco could be the place for large families to get the best value for [their]dollar," she noted.
Last year, Gioia participated in the Food Stamp Challenge, living for a week on the same budget followed by Food Stamp recipients. Mr. Gioia drew attention to the insufficient allocation to purchase food under the Food Stamp program by living on the $28 allotment that a Food Stamp recipient would be entitled to.
Accepting Food Stamps comes at no cost to a company and requires very few setup requirements. Today, the only form of Food Stamp benefit issuance is the EBT—Electronic Benefits Transfer card—which is a kind of debit card. Existing federal regulations specify that authorized retailers are not required to pay costs incurred by the installation of Food Stamp equipment. The USDA needs to authorize any potential business that wants to accept Food Stamps to make sure that they have a wide range of foods that would be part of a healthy diet. If a store is authorized by the USDA to accept Food Stamps, then the state provides the necessary equipment free of charge.