PLANT CITY, Fla. - A new advertisement from a Plant City grocery store is causing some concern. The promotion basically offers to accept food stamps in exchange for cigarettes and beer.
The ad offers beer and cigarettes for $1 for customers who use food stamps to purchase large quantities of meat. The store owner calls it a promotion, but some call it a loophole in the law.
It’s illegal to use food stamps to buy things like beer and cigarettes, but what’s listed in the ad appears to be perfectly legal.
The ad for the Price Buster Food Center in Plant City offers large quantities of meat, such as 27 pounds of beef for $60. The very top line of the ad reads, "EBT & Food Stamps Accepted." If the customer pays just one extra dollar, the store will throw in cases of beer or cigarettes.
The bargain has some customers concerned. “It bothers me. Cigarettes and beer should definitely not be part of a food stamp promotion,” said customer Tina Brodowski.
ABC Action News asked store owner Jeffrey Housholder if the promotion is a loophole that allows customers to use food stamps to buy beer and cigarettes. “Well, they can use their EBT cards, they can use their credit cards, they can pay me cash. It’s all the same deal to everybody,” Housholder responded.
Housholder says he’s not doing anything illegal, and he’s right. The USDA says because the deal is available to anyone, even customers who aren’t using food stamps, and because the beer and cigarettes are a separate charge, it appears to be within the law.
But Terry Field with the Florida Department of Children and Families says that insignificant one dollar charge appears to be just a way to sidestep the law.
“It may not be technically illegal, but it certainly doesn’t seem to pass the smell test,” Field said.
Housholder argues that his store has been hit hard by the economy, and this is just another way to bring customers in.
“Plant City has lost probably about 8 to 10,000 residents in our area. We’re just trying to broaden our advertising and reach out to more people,” Housholder said.
Field says it could lead to misuse of the food stamps program.
“To know that they’re using food stamps to buy food simply because they’re getting a bonus of cigarettes or alcohol, that’s a little problematic,” Field said.
After ABC Action News brought this to the attention of the USDA, representatives said they hadn’t heard of a promotion like this before and they will investigate.
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