Local business confused over SNAP benefit denial

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides benefits used to purchase food by those who qualify. After one local business was told they weren’t eligible to accept SNAP from customers, they did some digging and found that a national pizza chain with a very similar business model can…and they want to know why.

For busy folks living in Hillsboro, Kansas, who want a home cooked meal but maybe don’t have the time to do the cooking, there is a place. Mama C’s Take and Bake. A place where “home” cooked meals are prepared but not finished. Customers can pick them up, pop them in the often when they get home and enjoy. Owner, Carla Hamm, says it’s a lot of work and a lot of food, but her customers appreciate the convenience.

“We provide meals we make. On our little sticker labeling system, we have 1002 items,” Hamm said. “We make stuffed green peppers, we make lasagna, we make pot pies, we make hamburger steaks with brown gravy and potatoes, we make shepherd’s pie.”

The list goes on, not not everyone has access to those home cooked items. People like Jennifer Moss, who says the convenience and quality of food that Mama C’s provides would be very welcome in her home…it’s just not in her budget.

“I’m a single mom, I have three children, I work full time. There are days where it’s, it’s rough,” Moss said. “I would love to come here, I would love to utilize some of the things that she has in her freezer. Unfortunately, I have to get those items from the grocery store.”

Moss receives SNAP benefits each month. They allow her to buy food for her family without having to use the money she makes at her job. She can spend those benefits at stores, like grocery stores, that are eligible to accept them. Mama C’s is not one of those stores.

“I actually had a couple customers come in asking if I accepted them,” Hamm said. “I didn’t know how to do it or didn’t know what to do, so I went to another local business who accepts SNAP benefits and asked them how to get started, then got online started the whole application process.”

Once she got the ball rolling, Hamm said all that stood between her and the ability to begin accepting SNAP benefits from customers was an inspection to make sure she qualified.

“Finally we got someone to come out and do the inspection. She’s (the inspector) like ‘there is no reason you shouldn’t pass. This should be golden.’ ” Hamm explained. “It wasn’t like three or four weeks later we got the letter saying, ‘no, you don’t pass,’ and ‘you have too many things that are aren’t within the guidelines.’ “

The denial letter Hamm received informed her that because more than 50 percent of Mama C’s income came from the sale of heated or prepared food, it was a restaurant, and restaurants are not eligible to accept snap.

“They told me that everything is cooked however not everything that I do is fully cooked,” Hamm added.

Some quick research showed there are similarities between Mama C’s and other businesses in Kansas that can accept SNAP benefits. Hamm pointed to one in particular: Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza.

Factfinder 12 looked into it and found that Papa Murphy’s does accept SNAP and much of what they offer is cooked before it’s sold to a customer. According to one food nutrition website, of the top ten most popular pizzas sold there, eight contain meat. That meat is prepared before it’s placed on a pizza that is then taken home and cooked. Just as it would be, according to Hamm, at Mama C’s. She asked the USDA, which determines what businesses can accept SNAP, why she isn’t eligible to accept those benefits but a business with a very similar business model like Papa Murphy’s is.

“When I asked (the USDA) why that was different, (they) really could not answer that question. One other lady that I spoke to said ‘well, they have a big team of lawyers, and you don’t.’ “

Factfinder 12 contacted both Papa Murphy’s and the USDA. Papa Murphy’s did not respond. Asked the question posed by Carla Hamm, the USDA sent a statement that read, in part:

“We cannot discuss why a particular vendor was approved to accept SNAP benefits…restaurants, including pizza restaurants…are ineligible to participate in SNAP…A business model that prepares food solely for home preparation and consumption (e.g. take-and-bake) may be eligible to participate in SNAP.”

The statement really didn’t answer Hamm’s question and left Factfinder 12, Hamm and customers like Jennifer Moss in the dark.

“It would give me an option where if I wanted to give my kids something special. I could budget it within those benefits, Moss said. “They probably like pizza from Papa Murphy’s, but they’re probably going to really like Carla’s lasagna over that.”

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