EBT now stands for restaurant meals

A sign in a market window advertises the acceptance of food stamps in New York City.


Steve Chiotakis: There are some new signs luring customers into fast food restaurants around Los Angeles these days. No, they're not glossy close-ups of half-pound beef patties. They are plain white and blue signs, saying: "Now Accepting EBT" -- that's shorthand for food stamps. Reporter Vanessa Romo has more.

Vanessa Romo: Things weren't always so dire for Maria Ochoa. She once owned a beauty salon, a house, and a gold Lexus. But now she's at El Pollo Loco eating her one hot meal of the day.

Maria Ochoa: I always eat cold food, but I'm tired because sometimes we want some hot meals. And now that I know that they get the EBT, I come here and eat a hot meal.

EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. It's a debit card for food stamps.

Ochoa, a woman in her 50's with red permed hair and polished nails, is now living in that gold Lexus. Six months ago, she would have been hard-pressed to find a restaurant that takes food stamps. Now El Pollo Loco, Dominos and Jack in Box are part of L.A. county's Restaurant Meals program.

Lydia Erviti oversees the program, which includes more than 500 restaurants.

Lydia Erviti: Our goal is to provide healthy meals for the homeless, disabled and elderly participants. Especially the homeless because they don't have space to store food or cook.

Restaurant Meals is also paying off for those on the cooking end.

Joe Stein is the head of Strategy and Innovation for El Pollo Loco:

Joe Stein: I can tell you for 2010, just the way it's trending, we wouldn't be surprised if for company and franchise stores was over $2 million. From something that just started in August 09, that's pretty good size growth.

Good enough to interest other chains in joining the program, like Pizza Hut and Burger King. But food stamps still won't get you a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets. Not yet anyway.

That's OK with Maria Ochoa:

Ochoa: With my blood pressure and my diabetic, I can not eat too much salt and greasy food. That's why I prefer to come here.

For now she's sticking with the grilled chicken.

In Los Angeles, I'm Vanessa Romo for Marketplace.

Log in to post58 Comments


Writing to confirm what Kathleen said above on 2/18. LA County has the greatest number of homeless without means to prepare food, so the restaurant meal program was developed to give people the chance to have a hot meal. Rush L. was wrong -- can't get beer or wine with food stamps.

These comments are from folks who did not really listen or hear- and they are prejudiced and judgemental to boot. Just FYI, folks:(1) the EBT restaurant program is ONLY for the ELDERLY, DISABLED and HOMELESS! (no slackers here) (2) EBT cannot be used to buy hot prepared meals EXCEPT through this restaurant program and (3) to Mr. Daly from Chicago- how high and mighty you are! You condescend to opine that "giving options is not helpful' for 'them' and that 'poor judgement plays a role in the situation they find themselves in'. You'd better hope you don't lose YOUR job or health, or in any way encounter a bump in the road that will render YOU homeless or poor, 'cause you'll have "some 'splainin' to do' then!

Okay, aside from the whole unhealthy living on a Big Mac angle...

I have a real problem with the financials. One of the first things that a family that has TWO WORKING PARENTS do to rein in expenses is to stop going out to restaurants to eat and instead clip coupons, shop, and prepare their own meals.

I am glad that people who are in need get food stamps, but I think it is reasonable to expect the recipients to be as frugal as possible, especially because this makes such programs a lesser burden on the hard working middle class who is paying for these folks to get fed out of their hard earnings.

You should get enough foodstamp money to buy staples like bread, milk, potatoes, spagetti, frozen peas, etc. All that is inexpensive and allows for good healthy meals.

You shouldn't be eating at restaurants just for frugality reasons. I hope a person on food stamps doesn't spend it all on TV dinners and Boy-are-dee Ravioli, but that's back to the health issue.

Get a grip, people! This isn't Michelle Obama handing out Big Macs, it's one county trying an experiment.

On the surface it strikes me as a bad idea, but let them try it and see if it works. The cards can be limited so they can only buy certain healthy items from the menu, and I don't know if you've been in a Pollo Loco recently, but the food is cheap. This might turn out to be an cost effective way to feed people.

I can't believe anyone outside of the fast-food industry thinks this is a good idea.

A list of participating restaurants can be found here: http://www.ladpss.org/dpss/restaurant_meals/pdf/Restaurants_list.pdf A majority of them are pizza and fried chicken places.

I feel for Ms. Ochoa, but instead she should drive her Lexus to a supermarket where there are a plethora of relatively healthier hot prepared food options. This program just creates more long-term problems for an already at-risk population.

Is anyone else as apalled by this as I am? My tax dollars are now promoting obesity and chronic disease. My tax dollars also pay for MediCal, which will suffer increasing expenses as the same people who use their EBT at these restaurants show up at the county hospital ER and clinics with diabetic complications and high blood pressure. Good work, LADPSS.

Here in Chicago, the food stamps shoppers at the Dominick's I shop at, buy mostly junk. Some of it they are told can not be bought with food stamps, but by and large, I have only seen them buy junk. I do not think giving them options is helpful. Poor judgment plays a role in the situation they find themselves in. I believe that no cash or cash eq. benefits should be given. I think a box of healthy food purchased under the farm subsidy bill(s), and provided at central locations should replace food stamps. Some healthy food and EBT recipients might have the energy to go look for work, not to mention it may help lower the obesity rates among the poor and lessen the health care burden. In fact, I can not think of a reason, moral or otherwise, that a debit card should be handed to food stamps recipients.

I wonder if this is part of Michelle Obama's plan to end childhood obesity. Seriously, government could screw up a cup of coffee.


With Generous Support From...