Program seeks to enable welfare recipients to receive restaurant meals

RIVERSIDE – The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved implementation of a program, Tuesday, Oct. 31, under which the homeless and low-income seniors and disabled residents of Riverside County would be able to purchase hot meals from restaurants, using their public welfare debit cards.

“We’re looking forward to implementing this,” Department of Public Social Services Director Susan von Zabern said. “This will help low-income individuals purchase prepared meals.”

The Restaurant Meals Program is a CalFresh initiative managed by the California Department of Social Services and was first put forward in 2004 in various locations throughout the state.

The program permits holders of electronic benefit transfer or EBT debit cards to procure freshly made breakfast, lunch and dinner trays from participating restaurants, according to DPSS.

EBT cards replaced food stamps under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP in the early 2000s.

“With this arrangement, we’ll be outreaching to restaurants interested in enrolling in the meals program,” von Zabern said.

She said the main concern will be signing on eateries willing to refrain from selling alcoholic beverages to EBT users.

“The program has been refined over the years,” von Zabern said. “We’ve learned from other counties.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley said he was pleased that SNAP benefits will be exercised outside of grocery stores.

“There are so many reasonable and nutritious meals available now in restaurants out there,” Ashley said.

According to county figures, more than 11,000 homeless, low-income seniors and disabled SNAP recipients countywide will be eligible to take advantage of the Restaurant Meals Program once it’s operative.

The state must review and approve the county’s proposed program implementation. There was no timetable for when that will be completed.

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