Congressman Panetta, Senator Murphy Announce Legislation To Expand Access To Restaurant Meals Program Amid COVID-19

April 28, 2020
Press Release

SALINAS, CA – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) announced legislation to increase the ability for Americans struggling with food insecurity to receive restaurant meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, the COVID-19 Anti-Hunger Restaurant Relief for You Act of 2020, or the SNAP CARRY Act, expands eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Restaurant Meals Programs (RMP) and waives program requirements to make it easier for states and restaurants to participate in the program during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.  Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) announced the Senate companion of this legislation.

The RMP prevents hunger in some of our most vulnerable communities by allowing people who may not have the ability or a place to prepare their own food to purchase discounted prepared meals at participating restaurants with their SNAP benefits.  During emergencies like COVID-19 when there are often unforeseen challenges around food access, the RMP could serve to ensure those struggling with hunger can easily and safely access food. In addition, as the restaurant industry struggles with closures due to COVID-19, the RMP would help prevent job loss among restaurant employees.  However, statutory limits to the program present barriers to its use.

“With so many Americans struggling with hunger and so many restaurants struggling to remain in business during this pandemic, we must do everything we can to ensure that people can eat and those businesses can stay open.  We can help achieve those objectives by allowing people to use their SNAP benefits to purchase low-cost prepared meals from restaurants,” said Congressman Panetta.  "The SNAP-CARRY Act affords food retailers the opportunity to temporarily participate in the Restaurant Meals Program so that people can use their SNAP benefits at those select restaurants during these tough times.  This legislation really is a common-sense strategy to provide more options to food insecure individuals while simultaneously helping our food service industry.”

“COVID-19 is forcing more and more of Americans into hunger, and SNAP is a critical lifeline.  At the same time, restaurants are struggling to stay afloat. One way to help address both issues is to expand the Restaurant Meal Program, which allows individuals to purchase prepared meals at restaurants with their SNAP benefits.  Our SNAP CARRY Act will remove barriers to states and restaurants to participate in this existing program. It’s a no-brainer way to help feed the hungry while keeping restaurants in business,” said Senator Murphy.

“We must leverage the capacity of the hard-hit restaurant sector to provide meals for purchase with SNAP benefits.  This is a key piece of the food system puzzle that can ensure food security and bolster demand from a supply chain that has been hit hard as a result of the pandemic.  Moreover, each $1 in SNAP benefits generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.  We need more access points for SNAP consumers to obtain their food. This is essential for public health as well as for economic recovery,” said Luis Guardia, President of the Food Research & Action Center

“The SNAP Restaurant Meal Program extends the hunger-fighting power of federal food benefits to people who are unable to reach a grocery store or who don’t have the space or ability to safely prepare meals for themselves or their family,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of SNAP recipients who have fallen into this category.  We are grateful for the introduction of the CARRY Act which we hope will make a difference for them during this most trying time.”

“During this crisis and as our nation recovers, families need every resource available to feed their children” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of the No Kid Hungry campaign.  “The Restaurant Meals Program is an important way to reach those in need while also fueling our economy.”

"During this unprecedented crisis, the restaurant industry is working alongside anti-hunger groups to ensure our nation’s restaurants can serve as important food access points," said Sean Kennedy, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs for the National Restaurant Association.   “That’s why we applaud the introduction of the SNAP CARRY Act, which will help feed our nation's SNAP participants and keep America’s restaurant doors open." 

The SNAP CARRY Act (1) eases regulatory barriers on states participating in the program; (2) gives the Secretary of Agriculture broad authority to authorize additional food retailers to participate in SNAP and the SNAP RMP, and (3) establishes an option and process for participating restaurants in the RMP to end their participation after COVID-19.  Click here for a one-pager on this legislation.