Restaurants, liquor stores appear on SNAP-approved list - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Restaurants, liquor stores appear on SNAP-approved list

Liquor stores on the approved SNAP list often sell food items at greater cost. (Source: WAFF) Liquor stores on the approved SNAP list often sell food items at greater cost. (Source: WAFF)

Nearly one in five Alabamians use the taxpayer-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP to put food on the table. You may know them as food stamps. Thousands of Alabama stores accept SNAP funds. An investigation has discovered that list includes pizza joints and liquor stores. Now, we ask if your tax dollars are going to what they are intended for.

Kayla Whickum lives on a tight budget with her young son. The Huntsville mom works a full time job and is also one of nearly 900,000 Alabamians on SNAP.

“It's expensive, it's hard,” said Whickum.

The Huntsville mom does whatever it takes to stretch the taxpayer-funded help she receives.

“I have to stay on my shopping list and get the things I need not extra things I don't need,” said Whickum.

But she has plenty of choices when it comes to where to spend those SNAP funds.

We obtained a copy (PDF) of all 5,200 Alabama approved SNAP stores. The list has page after page of grocery stores and markets. But when we dug deeper we uncovered a dozen pizza restaurants, two steak businesses, and five liquor-and-package stores, including one in Huntsville.

Parkway Liquor sits on the 500 block of Drake Avenue. The store has a "We Accept Food Stamps" sign on the outside and is littered with beer advertisements. By law, SNAP funds can't be used for alcohol purchases - and the Huntsville business isn't breaking the law from what we gathered. 

That's because inside, they have a couple rows of groceries like soda, energy drinks, meat, canned goods, and candy. All are items eligible for purchase through SNAP.

It didn't come as a surprise, but we also found the liquor store is generally more expensive than a traditional grocer. We bought five items that cost $13.68 at the liquor store. When we went two blocks down the street and purchased those same five items from Walmart, we spent $8.07. That's a more than forty percent difference and more than five dollars in savings. 

When you're talking about tens-of-thousands of purchases every day, every bit of savings could end up saving the government and the taxpayer large sums of money. We took our findings to Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.

“I wish that there was some clean-cut way to fix that,” said Brooks. “As soon as we who are financially responsible propose a fix, there are others who protest, saying that's unfair.”

One of those groups is Arise Citizens' Policy Project, or ACPP. The non-profit is out of Montgomery and focuses on helping people with low income.

“If it were not for the SNAP program, we would have tens of thousands of hungry children in this state,” said ACPP’s Carol Gundlach.

Gundlach serves as a policy analyst with ACPP. We showed her our findings, too. She's not surprised to hear about the liquor stores and pizza places on the list or the price difference we discovered. She says reform is always an option, but eliminating every non-grocer from the list will do more harm than good, especially in rural areas.

“I think until we can have easy access to full service grocery stores for everybody we're forced to do the best we can,” said Gundlach.

Kayla Whickum says she'll continue to do the best for her family on their limited budget. But she knows others don't have the same mind set and it's hurting the taxpayers that are supporting their purchases.

“People are going to do wrong,” said Whickum.

Because SNAP is a federally funded program, local legislators are limited in changes to it. For change to happen it would have to occur on the federal level.

Click here to view a PDF list of all locations accepting SNAP in Alabama, along with demographic info about the people on the program. If you would like to contact your representatives to voice your opinions on the issue, you can find a list of contact information here.

Copyright 2014 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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    Thursday, July 17 2014 8:33 PM EDT2014-07-18 00:33:57 GMT
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