I don’t know how many of you have been following the news stories about the push in New York City to get Costco to accept food stamps, but it’s been going for a while now. If you didn’t know, Costco does not currently accept food stamps at any of its US locations. Costco has cited various reasons for this in the past, such as lack of demand and the loss to efficiency, as well as the cost, of changing their processes and registers to account for limiting what items can be paid for with food stamps (only edible items, from what I understand, not even household goods like toilet paper). However, there has been so much media coverage about it in New York City (I think it has something to do with upcoming elections because one of the most vocal is a mayoral candidate) that I think they finally gave in to stop the bad press. Of course, in an item in the New York Times, Costco cites the economic recession, but I think more likely it was political pressure and unfavorable media coverage to be honest.
In any case, next month Costco will begin a pilot program accepting food stamps at its two current New York City locations in Astoria, Queens and Sunset Park, Brooklyn. If there is sufficient demand and no ill effects on efficiency, then Costco will continue the program and also accept food stamps at their new location, when it opens, in East Harlem.
I think the biggest argument I’ve heard (from members) against Costco taking food stamps is the cost of the membership fee. Some current members have said that it would not be fair if Costco waived the membership fee and others also feel it would not be right if food stamps were used to pay for the membership fee. Food stamps will not be able to be used to pay for the membership fee. As I understand it, food stamps are given based on low income level, so the recipients do still have some discretionary funds that they can use to buy things like their $50 membership to Costco. I know in my comparisons, I’ve definitely shown that Costco can be much cheaper than other grocery stores, so it might be in their best interest to pay the $50 to have access to the savings of Costco because they can easily recoup the fee and continue to save money throughout the year and on other types of purchases too.
Currently, Costco does not have plans to accept food stamps at any of their other US locations. Although, I imagine if they start doing it permanently in the New York City stores, eventually they will be pressured to do it at all other US stores too.