Food stamps equal big money
BY GINNIE GRAHAM & GAVIN OFF World Staff Writers
Sunday, April 24, 2011
4/24/11 at 8:02 AM
Related Story: Military commissaries see spike in food stamp usage
Retail smokeshops, convenience stores, substance abuse rehabilitation centers and take-and-bake pizza shops across the state received millions in food stamp purchases during a nearly two-year period examined by the Tulsa World.
But much of the nearly $1.2 billion in food stamp expenditures went to Walmart stores, which brought in about $506 million between July 2009 and March 2011, according to data supplied by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
And though recipients might live within a mile of a store that accepts food stamps, most recipients travel more than 10 miles for the bulk of the food-stamp spending, according to the World's analysis.
The Walmart Supercenter at the 200 block of South Memorial Avenue redeemed the most food stamp dollars in Tulsa County since mid-2009, data show. The store redeemed roughly $15.3 million in food stamps, which was second in the state to Midwest City's Crest Discount Foods, which redeemed about $17 million in food stamp sales during that time.
That's no surprise to people using food stamps.
LaTara Mayberry receives $267 a month in food stamps for herself and her 5-year-old son. She has limited time between her job and being involved in her son's school and the resident association at Mohawk Manor.
She also does not have a car, so she rides the bus or finds someone with transportation.
"I go where it's convenient, where I feel comfortable and where prices are better," Mayberry said. "I go to the nearest grocery store to my house because it's convenient to me. I know I can save money through the month if I can keep my food stamps and find sales. But when you have small kids and get busy, it's hard to do that."
'Everything at once'
Tulsa County stores accepted more than $190 million in food stamps since mid-2009, the Tulsa World found.
Walmart stores held six of the top 10 positions, and Warehouse Markets held the other four spots.
Wilford Case, who receives the subsidy, said food-stamp shoppers cannot get to the store often, and Walmart is known to have consistent prices and variety.
"The reason people shop at Walmart is because the food is always reasonably priced, the food is the same, and you can get everything there at once," Case said.
Although food stamps are used across Tulsa County, stores south of Interstate 244 and north of East 21st Street redeem them more often. Eastern portions of the city, especially near the U.S. 169 corridor, also accept food stamps much more frequently, a World analysis found.
Some of Tulsa County's larger stores to redeem food stamps include: Warehouse Market, about $65.5 million; Homeland stores, about $67.3 million; Reasor's, about $30.8 million and Save-a-Lot, about $24 million.
Stores in small towns also showed high usage. For example, Rush Springs Discount Store in Grady County accepted $960,600 worth of food stamps, while Marvin's Foods and Harp's Food, both in rural eastern Oklahoma counties, accepted $15.8 million and $9.3 million, respectively.
Food stamps, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program administered in Oklahoma by the Department of Human Services.
Retailers must go through an approval process with the USDA, while the state DHS determines recipient eligibility.
Although most shopping is done at larger stores, smaller convenience stores are making a sizable amount of food stamp sales.
"When you can't get to a grocery store, that's when they use the convenience store," said Priscilla Miner, family resources coordinator at the Tulsa Housing Authority. "You can't get everything you need there, but there may be lunch meat, bread, chips or soda."
Statewide, QuikTrip is among the most popular convenience stores with about $10 million in food stamp sales.
QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh said the company has been participating in the program since it has been offered. Items most often purchased with food stamps are staples - milk, bread and eggs.
"We do have more items than most convenience stores and are conveniently located in areas that may not have anything else," Thornbrugh said. "
Other convenience stores redeeming food stamps include: 7-Eleven stores, about $12.7 million; Kum and Go stores, about $2.7 million; JiffyTrip, about $648,000; and Stop and Save, about $385,900.
Independent tobacco retailers in Oklahoma City accounted for about $304,000 in food stamp sales. Britton Discount Cigarettes, 1314 W. Britton Road, led tobacco retailers by redeeming about $67,500 in food stamps.
Discount Cigarettes and Food Store, 1845 W. Main St. in Oklahoma City, had about $64,200 in food stamp sales.
'Not aware that they qualify'
Perhaps surprisingly, food stamps become a part of a person's rehabilitation from substance abuse.
According to state data, about $910,000 was spent at substance abuse treatment centers since mid-2009. About $452,700 in goods were purchased with food stamps at Salvation Army rehabilitation centers.
The Tulsa program has a DHS social worker each week screen residents for possible eligibility, said Major Tom Overton in an email.
"At the time these men enter our program, many of them are not aware that they qualify for food stamps or how to get them," Overton said. "This is a service that helps them while they are in our program and after they leave."
While clients are in the program, funds are electronically sent into a Salvation Army account for food purchases. A week before a person leaves the program, the social worker is given a forwarding address so the funds can be transferred to the client.
If a person relapses from the program, DHS is immediately contacted. If not, the program would have to refund the money to the government.
Even with the subsidy, the cost of food exceeds the assistance. The Tulsa program had $276,816 in food stamp funds, but the food cost was $400,628, meaning the subsidy covers about 70 percent of purchases, Overton said.
The program, which has between 60 to 75 men enrolled, has a budget of about $3.5 million, all of which is generated through sales of donated items at the Salvation Army's three thrift stores.
"The residual effect is beneficial because men who are court-ordered to our program are able to pay their fines and decrease the percentages of falling into their old life and being a burden to our systems again," Overton said.
"Also, as men are rehabilitated, get jobs and become reunited with their families again, they begin to pay into the economy of our city. We believe this is a good deal for no more cost than the donation of a few used items that might have been ultimately thrown away."
About $555,900 was spent on take-out pizza, mostly from Papa Murphy's Take-and-Bake Pizza, bringing in $551,300 in food stamp sales for the chain. Papa Murphy's is a business where a pizza is prepared on site to be taken home to cook and serve.
DHS spokeswoman Sheree Powell said the USDA makes the determination on retailer qualifications.
"SNAP requires that only food intended to be eaten at home be purchased with SNAP benefits," Powell stated.
How it works for retailers
1. Must offer on a continuous basis at least three varieties of qualifying foods in each of four staple-food categories: breads/cereals, dairy products, fruits/vegetables and meat/fish/poultry. At least two of these categories must include perishable foods.
- The local U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Nutrition Services field offices determine whether retail food stores meet eligibility requirements to accept food stamps. Retail stores must meet one of two criteria:
2. Must have more than 50 percent of its total gross sales in staple foods. Staple foods do not include accessory foods such as coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, noncarbonated drinks, candy, condiments, hot foods or foods made to take out, like prepared sandwiches or salad.
Source: USDA and Oklahoma DHS
- Stores must be reauthorized at least once every five years. Visits can be made at any time to ensure compliance.
- Retailers are paid electronically with no cash exchanged. Based on the previous day's purchases, Oklahoma draws the money from the federal government and transmits via the state treasurer to a vendor, which then reimburses the retailers electronically.
Original Print Headline: Food stamps equal big money
Ginnie Graham 918-581-8376 Gavin Off 918-732-8106
Interior and exterior shots of Broken Arrow's newest, southern-most Wal-Mart Supercenter, at the site, just north of the 209th East Avenue and 71st Street. CORY YOUNG/ Tulsa World