Thursday, November 20, 2008

Costco and Food Stamps

Since I've been buying my own grocieries, I've had a policy.

If someplace won't accept food stamps, I won't shop there.

This policy started the first time I lived alone, which was in New Orleans. Metairie, actually, if you know the area. I lived close to a large, somewhat dirty supermarket with a French name that oozed local charm. I went there a few times, until Katy-the-Wise pointed out the food stamp policy, explaining that part of local charm was discouraging some of the locals who were percieved to be less charming from shopping there.

The fact that I was living at the poverty line didn't really play into it. I was a grad student. I was just visiting the poverty line and was free to leave it on my next turn. That said, I do have a mom who works in low-income housing and has for most of my life. Various realities about poor people, at least the ones my mother works with in Anacostia, were dinnertime conversation for my entire childhood. (Though once or twice, I was informed in hushed tones that there was a gang war going on, but that I shouldn't inform my father because "it might upset him.")

Anyway, I formed a policy, left local charm behind and started shopping at the Kroger with the hoi polloi.

Years later, I would see with annoyance that my local supermarket here in Northern Virginia had suddenly stopped taking food stamps. I asked the manager about it, and he showed me the paperwork. Nobody had used food stamps at that location in the last year, and the government had removed my supermarket from the program. Wasn't even their decision.


OK, fine. I still shop there.

But I also sometimes go to Costco. Indeed, at this very second, I am typing this while lying on a mattress that was purchased at Costco.

And now I read on the that they don't take food stamps.

To be honest, rationalization was my first reaction. It's Costco, I thought. They treat their workers well, they have cheap stuff and the return policy of the gods. I really like Costco and always have.

I had about convincd myself that the occaisional trip might still be OK, when I started to check out the comments on the story.

...Reduce Government involvement and complexity. Keep distance from entitlement recipients. Remain profitable. This is why Southwest Airlines doesn't accept foodstamps either...

Umm... OK.

...I am not trying to be a hard ass here but what business does someone drawing government assistance (READ: OUR TAX DOLLARS) have shopping at a pay-to-shop membership club?

Just sayin'....

...Apparently Sam's Club does not accept food stamps either, and only some BJ's locations do. I wonder what percentage of folks on food stamps have huge freezers?...

...It seems like anyone on food stamps smart enough to stretch a dollar, find the best deals, figure out if cost's fee is worth it, etc. Would be smart enough not to be on food stamps...

...While there are some exceptions, I don't think most poor people remain poor because they are smart and disciplined...


...the lines at that place are already insane, do you really want to be 3rd in line behind some heifer with 100+ items which are 50% food stamp and 50% not food stamp, but 100% mixed together? Even they manage to integrate the check out, I've been in line at the grocery and had to watch the idiots put back piles of non-edible stuff that they suddenly realized is not covered and that they have no way to pay for. ...

Excuse me?

...the poor with food stamps bring more trouble than any lack of fees is worth. whether it is shoplifting or purchasing of only low margin items/ghettoizing the atmosphere of the store..its just not worth it. if it were, they would have accepted them from day one...

And I'm realizing, I don't want to shop with these people.

who cherrypicked some of the nasty comments, but there were lots and lots to choose from.



L said...

I'm not sure I would judge all Costco shoppers based on the comments on the article. In my experience, it seems like a lot of people crawl out from under rocks just to comment publicly on news articles. But I agree with you -- not taking food stamps is an issue.

epilonious said...


"Those people" (AKA assholes) are everywhere, and I'm sure if your local market still took them and you got behind a person with 50% food stamp items not sorted they would probably make a sneaky nasty comment about it to you. You will probably never be able to escape them, and at least then you'll be able to deliver a bitch-face in person back.

I don't think that Costco is refusing to take food-stamps out of petty malice. It's probably some complicated thing involving not wanting to involve themselves with the bureaucracy or maybe even not qualifying in several cases.

If anything, I think Costco at least deserves a "so why don't you accept food-stamps?" email before you refuse to allow yourself to shop there ever again. Right now it seems like you don't want to shop there because a bunch of dicks are giving dubious (and offensive) reasons why they think it's a good thing. Give Costco enough rope to hang themselves.

Stephanie said...

Well, I don't shop at Costco, but it's not for any good reason. I just don't like how the store makes me feel. How's that for an earth-crunchy response?

Have you noticed that some of the commenters on Consumerist are not interested in consumers? They seem to tow the corporate line pretty darn effectively.

TheCSO said...

If Consumerist posted an article about how they saw someone at a big company kicking a puppy, the commenters there would overwhelmingly take the company's side, and ask if maybe the puppy wasn't asking for it. The comment threads at that site have some of the most toxic vitriol anywhere, so I don't take them all that seriously.

Costco doesn't even take Visa or Mastercard. I'm not at all surprised that they don't take food stamps either. The total changes required to a major store's point-of-sale system to accomodate food stamps, even the modern SNAP all-electronic version, are still pretty significant.. you are introducing a form of payment that has its own restrictions, sets of rules, record-keeping and auditing requirements, etc, and all of those have costs involved. Yes, SNAP has done a very good job of reducing the burden on small stores, but it's still a major IT project. I can completely understand how without a fire lit under them by bad publicity etc, a project to start taking SNAP would never get off the ground.

Costco, like most membership-based stores, derives most of their profit from membership fees. Actual product sales are on a very thin margin. So unless it's mostly being done for political reasons, the payback just isn't there - they wouldn't sell a lot more memberships by taking food stamps, and they really don't care how much product they move all that much since that isn't where most of their profit comes from anyway.

(The other thing I noticed about the New Orleans stores that didn't accept food stamps is that they were patronized by people who QUALIFIED for food stamps, but were too stubborn/proud to apply for them and had the harshly negative attitudes towards recipients CC quoted from the Consumerist thread. I've never been quite sure how to feel about that.)

PG said...

I assumed Costco didn't take Visa or Mastercard for a reason similar to why lots of places don't take Discover: fees imposed by the card companies. I wouldn't think that food stamps would have that issue, although thecso's points about the internal costs of accommodating a payment system are well taken.

Anonymous said...

I am unfamiliar with Consumerist, but the CSO's comment made me want to post about "how they saw someone at a big company kicking a puppy," just to see what comments it would elicit.... :-)

Steven Rowe said...

Having had a relative who had been a Food Stamp Investigator - stores lose the right to take food stamps because of fraud.

Anonymous said...

I am on food stamps, and I believe myself to be an intelligent person (I am a member of MENSA after all). But also, I have a recent shoplifting charge (wasn't my fault, but I doubt my ability to fight corporate america as a trans lesbian, so I pled no contest) and no post secondary degree. I am preparing to go to CCD to fix the latter problem.

People aren't on food stamps as a way to get around the system. People just need a little help every now and then. I just barely got off the streets and I would have to say that every time I go to the check out lane, I hope beyond all hope that no one utters the words "Food Stamps".

I know these judgments well, I have heard them about me in the checkout line. I probably wouldn't be on hormones if I didn't have food stamps so I have to be on food stamps to eat and to stay on hormone therapy.

So, everyone has circumstances that no one wants to know about. People treat homelessness and welfare as if the people suffering from them are to be branded with the scarlet 'P' (for poor). It allows them to try to separate themselves from the problem and think 'oh, well, it will never happen to me'.

Comrade Kevin said...

One of the major challenges in my life is being able to acknowledge the awfulness of attitudes like this and try to love these people in spite of their prejudices.