Food stamps to be accepted at Taco Bell?

PHOENIX - Food stamps are already accepted at several fast food restaurants in the Valley and the programs may soon be expanding but some say that's a bad idea.

A proposal by the company that owns Taco Bell and Pizza Hut is getting a lot of reaction across the country.

Yum! Brands , which also owns KFC , wants people on food stamps to spend their tax dollars at their restaurants.

It's part of a pilot program from the USDA already happening in Arizona.

Currently, you can use food stamps to buy a meal at several El Pollo Loco restaurants throughout the Valley as well as certain Domino's Pizza locations.

The program is designed to help people who might otherwise have a hard time getting a hot meal.

"There are people who simply cannot cook for themselves," said Steve Meissner, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Economic Security , the agency that administers the food stamp program in Arizona. "If you're homeless, you can't cook for yourself. If you have a disability that makes it difficult, you can't cook for yourself."

A Yum! spokesperson released the following statement to ABC15:

"It makes perfect sense to expand a program that's working well in California, Arizona and Michigan, enabling the homeless, elderly and disabled to purchase prepared meals with SNAP benefits in a restaurant environment just as they can purchase ingredients in a supermarket."

But Valley nutritionist Don Matesz thinks the program could do more harm than good.

"Just generally I think it's a bad idea to use food stamps at fast food restaurants," said Matesz, owner of the Barefoot Acupuncture Clinic .

Matesz claims 80 percent of the patients he treats admit to eating fast food often.

He says that can lead to liver problems, diabetes and heart disease.

"It's convenient food," said Matesz. "You eat two to three meals a day there and not do much physical activity, it's going to add up."

The Department of Economic Security encourages restaurants to provide healthy meals and for food stamp users to avoid the unhealthy options.

But Meissner says they cannot and do not mandate it.

"We're not the food police," said Meissner. "We don't want to be the food police. We have no right to tell people what to eat and how to eat.

The USDA will ultimately decide whether to expand the program or discontinue it altogether.

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