SNAP Restaurant Meals Program: What It Is and How Can Seniors Sign Up?

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The vast majority of low-income Americans who qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can only use them to pay for food that must be prepared at home. This means almost all of their purchases are made at grocery stores and other retailers.

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However, beneficiaries in a few states can also use SNAP to buy hot meals at participating restaurants under the program’s Restaurant Meals Program (RMP). The RMP is a state option available to SNAP recipients who might not be able to prepare meals for themselves, or who don’t have permanent housing for storing and preparing food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program, but it is administered at the state level.

So far, only seven states participate in the SNAP Restaurant Meals Program: Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Rhode Island and Virginia. SNAP recipients in all other states can only use their benefits to pay for food meant to be prepared and eaten at home, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA). They can’t buy food that’s hot at the point of sale — even if it’s bought from a grocery store.

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To be eligible for the RMP, SNAP beneficiaries must first be certified in a state that has the program, and one of the following:

  • Elderly (60 years of age or older)
  • Disabled (receives disability or blindness payments or receives disability retirement benefits from a governmental agency because of a disability considered permanent)
  • Homeless
  • Spouse of a SNAP client who is eligible for the RMP

You can sign up for the RMP by contacting the state agency in charge of administering SNAP benefits. To purchase a hot meal at an RMP location, you need an active Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card and secret PIN.

For restaurants to participate in the RMP, they must be located in a state that offers the program. They then need to get approved by the state’s SNAP administration agency and provide a signed agreement with the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Finally, the restaurant must be authorized by the FNS to accept SNAP benefits.

Each state can set its own requirements for choosing how many and which restaurants can participate in the RMP. States that want to participate must prove to the USDA that certain high-needs residents aren’t well-served by traditional food stamp benefits.

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Below is a list of national restaurant chains that accept SNAP EBT payments in states that offer the Restaurant Meals Program, according to The National Council on Aging (NCOA). Keep in mind that not all locations in RMP states participate in the program.

If you live in one of the states that offers the RMP and want to learn more, visit the USDA’s RMP site for contact information on all participating states.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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