In the 1990s, Michigan began statewide implementation of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) for food and cash assistance. At that time, the Department of Human Services adopted the option of extending EBT use by homeless, elderly or disabled recipients to restaurants approved by federal Food and Nutrition Services. Until 2007, an average of three to six restaurants actively participated in the program. As Michigan’s economy worsened, a larger number of restaurants were approved for the program – with 110 restaurants certified and just 54 redeeming food assistance benefits as of late 2012. Questions arose about the lack of nutritional food available at the restaurants. So did concerns about fraud in certain locations. As a result, DHS will no longer participate in the EBT/restaurant program as of Aug. 1, 2013. DHS provided public notice to vendors/restaurants on July 1, 2013.
Key Talking Points:
- Michigan will not be alone in not providing this program. Very few states participate in the EBT/restaurant program nationwide. Just four states were participating as of late 2012, and in one of those states use was limited to only one county.
- The state has been concerned about the potential for fraud and/or abuse with the restaurant EBT program. A high-profile case involving food stamp fraud at a West Michigan restaurant is among the verified instances of abuse involving this program.
- Many other providers of prepared meals will continue to be authorized to accept EBT cards from homeless, elderly and/or disabled recipients. These providers are: Meal delivery services such as Meals on Wheels and senior citizen centers/residential settings, drug/alcohol treatment programs, shelters for battered women and children, communal dining facilities (for elderly and disabled only), group living arrangements and homeless meal providers.
- It is important for all Michigan residents to have access to healthy, nutritional foods. Most of the redeeming restaurants have provided only fast-food options for clients.
- State government wants to highlight efforts to promote healthier eating, such as the Double Up Food Bucks program that allows food assistance clients to receive matching funds for purchases at many farmers markets. This is a healthier alternative to using food assistance to buy fast food.
- DHS has notified participating restaurants about the decision to end the program. Restaurants can notify their customers who are EBT program participants and regular patrons.
- DHS is notifying its clients over the next few months on its public web site, along with other means, to get the word out that this program is coming to an end in Michigan.
- Clients who use their Bridge Card at redeeming facilities other than restaurants will see no difference in their ability to access benefits because of this change.
Elimination of the EBT/restaurant program will benefit DHS clients and taxpayers. It will reduce the unhealthy food options available to food assistance clients and hopefully encourage them to pick more nutritional options. There will still be plenty of other options for recipients who are homeless, elderly or disabled to use their EBT cards to receive prepared meals and other food. For example, the Double Up Food Bucks program allows recipients to get more bang for their buck when they use EBT cards. It is important to prevent fraud involving public assistance dollars, and elimination of the EBT/restaurant program will make it easier to do so.