The Restaurant Meals Program Would Make Healthy Meals Accessible to More SNAP Participants

Food Insecurity in the U.S. and Here at Home in Missouri

More than 34 million people experience food insecurity in the United States. That includes 9 million children and more than 5 million adults aged 60 and older.   That is 10.2% of Americans in total. 

Imagine a room of people randomly selected from any of our communities around the state. As you look around in that room, more than 1 out of 10 people you see are struggling with meeting their most fundamental human needs. In Missouri, over 11% of us have limited or uncertain access to adequate food forcing difficult decisions like having to make trade-offs between healthy food or much-needed medicine or a heating bill in January.    

Support Available and Its Limitations

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is the U.S.’s largest anti-hunger program. Nation-wide, it helps millions of people who are at risk for food insecurity. It is a federal program administered at the state level and, in Missouri, the program provides help in purchasing food for over 670,000 people.

SNAP is specifically and vitally important to older adults with low-incomes, people living with a disability, and individuals dealing with homelessness. The benefits go beyond putting a meal on the table. Participation in the SNAP Program is associated with improved health outcomes, contributes to lower health care costs, fewer ER visits and fewer long-term care admissions to a hospital. 

Currently, SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase food products that need to be prepared and consumed at home. Thus, individuals on SNAP, cannot purchase hot food at the grocery store or at a restaurant with their benefits. This means they can’t even buy those hot rotisserie chickens that you find in most grocery stores. 

For most, these restrictions work just fine, but for SNAP recipients who are elderly, disabled, or experiencing homelessness not being able to purchase food that is already prepared poses a real challenge. These challenges include:

  • Some participants have physical barriers to preparing food for themselves.
  • Some participants who struggle to use cooking facilities safely, 
  • Some participants lack access to cooking facilities and,
  • Some participants lack access to safe and effective food storage.

Meaningful Change Is Possible

Changes that will benefit SNAP recipients who face these barriers include expanding the kinds of food people have access to. At a very low implementation and ongoing maintenance cost*, there is a state option that will expand the program to include hot, prepared meals at certain restaurants for people who have difficulty managing that on their own. 

There is a Federal provision that States can implement within the SNAP program that addresses just these barriers: The Restaurant Meals Program (RMP). This program has been an option that states could take for elderly or disabled recipients since 1978 and then in 1996, under the Mickey Leland Memorial Domestic Hunger Relief Act, the program was expanded to include homeless SNAP recipients. Since its creation, states like Illinois, Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Rhode Island have all implemented some form of a RMP. 

Last year was the first year that a bill had been filed in Missouri that would create the Restaurant Meals Program. Senator Angela Mosley from St. Louis County filed the bill. She filed the bill because she was approached by a family member who runs a restaurant who heard about the program and thought it would be a great way for them to help their low income neighbors. And amazingly, it moved rather far in the legislative process for the first time being filed. By the end of the 2022 legislative session, the bill had passed the Senate and made it all the way through the House Committees where it died in Fiscal Review.

For the 2023 Legislative session, Sen. Mosley has again filed the Restaurant Meals Program bill. This year her bill is Senate Bill 313.  Additionally this year, Rep. Travis Smith has filed a companion bill in the House: House Bill 1026. If passed, SB 313 and HB 1026 would allow households containing all elderly, disabled, or homeless individuals the option, in accordance with federal law, to redeem their SNAP benefits at private establishments that contract with the Department of Social Services to offer hot meals intended for immediate consumption. According to the fiscal note for SB 313, FSD estimates that approximately 186,023 households (27,906 homeless households and 158,117 elderly/disabled households) will be eligible to participate in the Restaurant Meals Program. That is not a small number of people!

If Missouri can pass this bill and implement this program in a way that makes it easy for many restaurants to take part in it, this can be life changing for the qualified SNAP participants.  

On Wednesday, March 1st, Senate Bill 313 had a hearing in the Senate Progress and Development Committee.  Empower Missouri testified in favor of the bill at the committee hearing. You can see the testimony we submitted HERE. Please reach out to the members of the committee and ask that they vote to pass Senate Bill 313 out of the committee as soon as possible!

To stay up to date and to learn more about this issue please join our Food Security Coalition or by following the Empower Missouri Food Security Coalition Facebook Group.


Predicted cost for the Restaurant Meals Program:

Total fiscal impact is estimated in the SB 313 fiscal note as follows:

  • FY 24 – $46,240 ($31,240 implementation plus $1,500*10 months maintenance = $15,000)
  • Ongoing years – $18,000 annually ($1,500 * 12 months maintenance = $18,000) 
  • Total costs each year will be split 50% Missouri GR and 50% Federal funds

(see SB 313 Fiscal Note for complete details).

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