Should Food Stamps be Used at Starbucks? Company Says Practice Not Recommended

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Oregon's food stamp program was used to buy products at a Starbucks inside a grocery store, Oregon television station Fox 12 reported Friday.

The station went to an in-store Starbucks in a Safeway grocery store in Salem, Ore., with Jackie Fowler, the owner of a supplemental nutrition card. Fowler walked away from the Starbucks outlet with a $5.25 bill on her Oregon Trail card, for a tall Frappuccino and a slice of pumpkin bread.

It's crazy, Fowler told the station.

Her story and the resulting investigation have provoked mostly negative reaction. In an unscientific poll on the station's Web site, 90 percent of people said food stamps should not be allowed for purchases at Starbucks.

In an emailed statement to the International Business Times on Friday, Starbucks said it does not accept food stamp cards at company-operated stores. It recommends that other licensees, like franchises within grocery stores, also do not accept the cards.

Starbucks, as policy, does not accept food stamp cards for payment at its Company-operated stores; however, some of our licensees, particularly those within grocery stores, may accept these for payment, the statement read.

The acceptance of these programs as a form of payment is common within the grocery industry and our licensees are committed to following all laws and rules of the individual programs. When this topic arises, Starbucks continues to communicate to our licensees that we do not recommend this practice.

Calls to Safeway's public relations department were not returned Friday. Dan Floyd, a spokesman for Safeway, told Fox 12 that the store recently began allowing the practice for its customers' convenience.

We think that compliance with state laws is something we can easily do, Floyd told the station.

Fowler said she has found many loopholes in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to its general product-eligibility guidelines given by the United States Department of Agriculture, households cannot use SNAP benefits to buy food eaten in the store or hot foods. However, soft drinks and bakery cake are both mentioned as eligible junk food and luxury items.

Fox 12 also specified two other local stores containing an in-store Starbucks -- Albertsons and Fred Meyer -- that would approve the usage of food-stamp cards at their locations. But there are conditions: The beverage has to be cold, and the food has to be one approved by the program.

Oregon's State Department of Human Services also did not respond to multiple calls and a voicemail, but it told Fox 12 it was not privy to the practice's existence.

We'll contact these grocery stores to get more information and make sure they're operating within the SNAP guidelines, DHS communications director Gene Evans told Fox 12.

Fowler receives approximately $118 in food stamps each month. She, for one, thinks using her card at Starbucks is over the top.

They're overpriced as it is, said Fowler of Starbucks specialty drinks. That's money that somebody could be eating with -- a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk.

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