Costco Will Expand Food Stamp Program Nationwide

It turns out more Costco customers use food stamps than CEO James D. Sinegal originally thought, because after a test run earlier this year the company has decided to roll out the program nationwide.

Sinegal told the Seattle Times that once they got the software in place in their trial-run stores in NYC, “it became relatively easy to roll out the program nationally.”

The company says at least half of the 410 US stores will start accepting the food stamps by Thanksgiving, and that they’re focusing on getting stores in economically hard-hit areas, like Michigan and the central valley of California, up and running first.

“Costco plans to accept food stamps nationally” [The Seattle Times]
(Photo: David McKelvey)

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  1. georgi55 says:

    You can only buy food with these even from Costco right? Don’t want people spending our tax dollars on HDTVs from Costco.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @georgi55: Yeah, you can only buy food.

    • Trick says:

      @georgi55:

      I doubt welfare recipients will be able to buy HTDV’s anymore than than they can buy booze or the BBQ pit in the front of the store or the limited tools and car parts that are sold at regular stores.

      • mazzic1083 says:

        @Trick: Well depends on if it’s food stamps or cash benefits. Remember all those Katrina victims who were buying big screen tvs? They were doing it with a card that has food stamps AND cash benefits loaded on it; thus food stamps couldn’t be used on the TV purchase but your cash benefits (which works just like a debit card) COULD be used.

        • twophrasebark says:

          @georgi55:

          Yes, you can use food stamps to buy liquor and cigarettes. Even medical marijuana. Pretty much anything. I even saw someone buy a plane ticket to Hawaii.

          [I have given up on informing people about food stamps and how are programmed to only purchase food. I figure, why not make them happy and confirm their wildest fantasies?]

          • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

            @twophrasebark: At the risk of using the same fallacious reasoning as you, I know for a fact that the program in Virginia won’t even allow the purchase of paper towels using the gov’t-issued card.

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    What benefits can someone on food stamps derive from shopping at Costco vs. at a regular grocery store? I get that buying certain things in bulk is more economical overall, but they also cost more in the short term because yes, you get more when you spend more, but if you only have $40 in food stamps, are you really going to spend half of it on a bulk pack of chicken breasts when you also need a lot of other things?

    • edesignway says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I’ve seen chicken breast at many local stores for over $4 lbs when not on sale. You can often times find it for under $2 lbs at Costco/Sams etc. Might use more money upfront, but the food will last longer because you are getting more of it on the cheap.

    • ARP says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: In short, cheaper in bulk.

    • tbax929 says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:
      Most people I know who are on food stamps get a hell of a lot more than $40.

    • morlo says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Poor people do usually end up shopping at stores that charge more and in quantities that cost more. Since the average benefit is around $200, though, shopping at costco could be possible with a little planning

    • Etoiles says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: I’m guessing it’s not economical for single persons, couples, or small families, but for a family with, say, five kids? Costco is much more economical, hands down, almost every time…

      (I grew up in a town with a very, very high percentage of families being either Mormon or Catholic. I had a lot of friends who were one of 5 or 7 or, in one case, 14…)

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @Etoiles: I can attest that Costco is significantly less economical for just the two of us. My parents get a lot more mileage out of a Costco membership because they cook for friends and family a lot.

        • AnthonyC says:

          @pecan 3.14159265:
          Sorry, need to disagree there. I buy lots of things at costco just for myself. Non-food non-perishable items, of course, and things like pasta, rice, and bisquik. But they also have really good breads, meats, and produce, which surprises many people- and yes, you can use it before it goes bad, you just need to do some meal planning. Many things can be frozen, too.

          • pecan 3.14159265 says:

            @acvicari: We buy pasta, rice, nonperishables and meats there too. It seems like we buy the same things – but it’s not as economical for us as it is for people who need these things in bulk. We do it to save money and trips to the store.

        • katia802 says:

          @pecan 3.14159265: If you have a nice big chest freezer, you can buy for a month at Costco for 3, (longer for two i’d assume)for much less than at the grocery store. Takes some work, and willingness to put up with less variety.

  3. ExtraCelestial says:

    *RANT_ABOUT_SOCIALISM*
    *RANT_ABOUT_OBAMA*
    *RANT_ABOUT_LAZINESS*

    • Dondegroovily says:

      @ExtraCelestial: Rant about stupid posts

      • ExtraCelestial says:

        @Dondegroovily: You’re right. I jumped the gun a bit as I expected the conversations to go in the direction they often do, but this post continues to be rather civil.

        It’s not so much about parties, I just wish people would be as involved with the allocation of ALL of our taxes as they are with food stamps, TARP funds and possible healthcare funding. There are a lot of other government expenditures that really could use that sort of fine combing.

    • Trick says:

      @ExtraCelestial:

      Wow, nobody until you had said anything about socialism, Obama or laziness. How sad that the only thing you have to whine about is the very thing you are whining about.

      Being partisan tool on *either* side is just plain stupid and thanks for proving that point.

  4. georgi55 says:

    Another interesting point – will Costco system keep information on what purchases were made with food stamps? Costco accepts returns without receipt so you could go and buy something expensive but small that qualifies for food like beef jerky, then return that without receipt and get back cash or store credit instead that you could then use on anything, not just food.

    • edesignway says:

      @georgi55: While a PITA, you can do the same thing at Wal-Mart, just have to show your ID.

    • larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

      @georgi55: In my experience at Costco, even without a receipt you still have to show your card, which means they can look up your transactions quite easily. They’d easily be able to tell your method of payment.

  5. themrdee says:

    Food Stamps! Only good for food like fudge brownie mix or soft drinks. Not good for non food items like soap or toilet paper.

    • ExtraCelestial says:

      @themrdee: You’re complaining that food stamps can only be used for food?

    • shepd says:

      @themrdee:

      Apart from the lye, you can make soap from items you can buy with food stamps.

      And, as for toilet paper, if you’re that broke, use the flyers.

      • Chris Walters says:

        @shepd: Ha ha ha, that’s the most original/subtle version of “I make it myself at home” that I’ve seen here, even if it was unintentional.

        +1 to you

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        @shepd: if you burn the paper [matches not available with food stamps] and cardboard food wrappers you could use the ash from it to make lye.
        and then render some beef tallow [i mean, cheap ground beef is often 20% fat]
        and there you go – soap!

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @themrdee: [www.fns.usda.gov] List of Eligible Items

      • missdona says:

        @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): I love that in Alaska only, bows and arrows are covered by food stamps.

        Seems inventive.

        • winshape says:

          @missdona: If you give a man an elk, he’ll eat for a day. Give him tax-subsidized bows and arrows, he’ll eat the rest of his life.

        • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

          @missdona: I know, that cracked me up!

          I was interested to learn, though, that food stamps can cover various food gardening seeds & plants. I wonder how often that’s taken advantage of.

          • yizzerg says:

            @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): Probably as often as they can be, what with people living in dire situations in areas where they can’t garden at all, or have very little knowledge of sustainable gardening.

            • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

              @yizzerg: Well, one reason it interested me — a lot of Section 8 and low-income rental housing around here are actual houses on reasonably-sized lots, the city’s old pre-war housing stock. I worked as the garden adviser on a project with some Girl Scouts from the low-income part of town who created a community garden — organic, sustainable — using $54 and grew a metric ass-ton of produce which was donated to food banks. One of the purposes of the garden was to use it as an educational exhibit for the people in that part of the city who didn’t know much about gardening and who couldn’t typically afford fresh produce. The girls created a whole little community curriculum around it, focusing on health, nutrition, obesity, etc.

              I’d be curious to know if projects like that lead to any take-up on the seeds and plants; if the seeds & plants piece is well-known; and if it’s used more in rural areas (say) or in certain regions of the country.

              • mazzic1083 says:

                @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): My old college roommate is involved in a community garden in a suburb outside of Philly. Same kind of concept as you described, just buy a bunch of seeds, put them in an abandoned lot sanctioned by the city, and each person volunteers a few hours a week to maintain the garden. Fast forward a few months and you have tons of local produce, it’s an interesting, low cost concept and apparently great for local food banks

              • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

                @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): i’m getting a kick out of some of the details of the descriptions: “bread, still warm from baking” – so after 30 minutes it isn’t eligible? day old bread doesn’t count? what if they use a heat lamp on it for a week?

                • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

                  @catastrophegirl: I laughed too, but I believe that specific one has to do with not being allowed to use food stamps for “hot” food as that’s typically “eat-in” food which is like “restaurant” food and you’re paying more for the preparation added-value which isn’t a good use of tax dollars. (Run-on much?)

                  But still-warm-from-baking bread typically doesn’t cost extra.

                  • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

                    @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): well they include acai juice…. so i still wonder, you know? i guess technically it is a fruit juice. it’s only marketed as snake oil.
                    but noni juice isn’t….
                    [don’t worry, you could still get bawls guarana-caffiene beverage though]
                    thanks for the very entertaining link.

  6. Blueskylaw says:

    It’s nice to see Costco taking alternative forms of payment, money they might not otherwise see.

  7. MickeyMoo says:

    I hope the checkout attack squad doesn’t try to pester them to upgrade to Executive membership.

  8. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    While I see this as a good thing because it’ll give those who are on food stamps more options as to where they can shop, I suspect a lot of people are going to be annoyed and outraged that the poor are coming to their safehaven.

    • georgi55 says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: Actually our local costco has too many rich snobs so having a little mix of less fortunate people might be a good thing.

    • corinthos says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: My costco is across the street from a walmart. I guess a bunch of walmart shoppers got curious about it and came over. You can barely tell the customers apart at that one.

    • ohnoes says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: You might be surprised to know that not everyone on food stamps is an overweight, sunburnt, short-shorts and tank-top-wearing loudmouth with more toes than teeth.

      Hey, I can stereotype too! Yay me.

      • morlo says:

        @ohnoes: Yes, many of them wear designer clothes and drive luxury cars!

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @ohnoes: I haven’t stereotyped at all. I only said that people on food stamps were (more or less) poor, which is true because to qualify for food stamps you have to be pretty close to the poverty line. It’s only a statement meant to convey that some snobby people will be snobbish against the poor, especially because most of them don’t look different from anyone else.

    • Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

      @pecan 3.14159265:
      Should be interesting at the Costco on Clybourn in Chicago. It’s right across the street from a housing project.

      • twophrasebark says:

        @pecan 3.14159265:

        Your comment stills makes no sense. How will people be able to tell the poor people from the rich people? Do they have the special “poor people clothing?” Will it be obvious because they buy the special “poor people food?”

        Have their been complaints at Target and Wal-Mart and Whole Foods about all those poor people clogging up the lines using their food stamps?

        What are you talking about?????

  9. chigro says:

    I think that this is a good idea for Costco as they are broadening their customer base. I just wish that they’d allow other methods of payment. Now it’s cash, ATM/Debit cards or AMEX oh wait and Food Stamps.

  10. coren says:

    This is great! Not just for the poverty stricken, which of course it is, but for me.

    My Costco stock took a nice little jump yesterday when the articles started flying around about this. Hurray :)

    • Veeber says:

      @coren: I think BJs has been accepting food stamps for quite a while now too. I just got a flyer from them about a food drive program they are advocating. They want to collect 25 tons of food for Thanksgiving.

  11. AllanG54 says:

    There are no more “food stamps.” Everything is done by EBT (electronic benefits transfer)

  12. takotchi says:

    Great, now poor people can enjoy Costco with their banker’s hours, ridiculously long checkout lines, and ultra-surly employees. (Yes, I’m bitter because my local Costco blows and doesn’t have any of the stuff people say Costco is so great for having.)

  13. locakitty says:

    Sam’s already takes food stamps.

    What I wonder, though, is will Costco subsidize the membership fee or begin offering short term memberships (daily, monthly, etc)?

    If Costco had a daily pass thing (I think BJs does this), I would probably go more often. If it was a reasonable price. I couldn’t really justify the cost of my membership with the once or twice a year I used it.

  14. thrashanddestroy says:

    As a Costco employee, all I have to say is…god damn it.

    • thrashanddestroy says:

      @thrashanddestroy: I’ll add to that with a point I, and others, have made before;

      If you find yourself in a position where you need food stamps, maybe you should eliminate unnecessary spending where you can. For instance, a club wholesaler who requires a paid membership. As an employee, I’m more than happy to take your money, regardless of what form it comes in because that’s what keeps me paid. As a person that can think logically and rationally? I think you need to make some better financial decisions and save money however you can.

  15. donovanr says:

    To me the formula is simple. Very few people who are failures in life have the financial good sense to spend money to save money. Thus Costco had created an environment toxic to life’s dropouts; An Oasis. I don’t want to lose my Oasis. A cruel statement but I will take my money to anyone who can replace this former Oasis.

  16. DadCooks says:

    This just opens another venue for the “Food Stampers” to abuse their “entitlement”.

    Ever notice how many of them drive a newer car than you? Have more “bling” than you? Have an attitude of f*** you?

    No business should try to everyone as a customer. IMHO, some customers are not worth having. And to be fair, Costco currently has some customers that should be banned for life (insert your own pet peeve here); after all, Costco is a “membership” store.