Padilla Introduces Bill to Expand Access to Restaurant Meals Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) introduced the Meals for At-Risk Americans Act, which would streamline the application process and provide guidance to states for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Restaurant Meals Program.

“Everyone deserves access to freshly cooked, nutritious meals, but for many vulnerable Americans, preparing healthy food at home is not an option,” said Senator Padilla. “The Restaurant Meals Program is a vital source of quality, prepared meals for millions of Californians who are disabled, elderly, or experiencing homelessness. This legislation will make it easier for states to create their own Restaurant Meals Programs and for restaurants to apply for the program, helping feed our communities and supporting mom-and-pop businesses.”

“We commend Senators Padilla (D-CA), Cornyn (R-TX), and Murphy (D-CT) for introducing the Meals for At-Risk Americans Act of 2023, a critical step in expanding access to the Restaurant Meals Program,” said Luis Guardia, president of Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). “Not only would this bill remove administrative barriers for states seeking to operate the program, but it also would bolster local economies. For every $1 in SNAP, $1.50–$1.80 is generated in economic activity. It’s a win-win that our lawmakers can’t afford to pass up. We call on them to prioritize this legislation so that more older adults, people experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities can access the food they need.” 

“SNAP is a proven powerful intervention that lifts children and families out of poverty-related hunger. Families experiencing homelessness face the most significant barriers to food security and may lack access to kitchens or other barriers to using their SNAP benefit. The Restaurant Meals Program provides critical access for these families to eat with dignity, and while California has led the way to implement this program many mom-and-pop restaurants face long waits and administrative challenges. We thank Senator Padilla, Senator Cornyn, and Senator Murphy for introducing this win-win bill improving equity for all Californians to use their SNAP benefits while supporting thriving small businesses,” said Shimica Gaskins, President & CEO, GRACE/End Child Poverty California.

“Today, more than 5 million Californians rely on SNAP to put food on the table and feed their families. For households experiencing homelessness, older adults, or people with disabilities, they often face difficulties in preparing meals or lack adequate cooking facilities. The Restaurant Meals Program is a crucial for these SNAP households to nourish themselves. This bill will ensure communities can fully leverage the potential of the Restaurant Meals Program, and we thank Sen. Padilla, Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Murphy for their leadership,” said Becky Silva, Director of Government Relations, California Association of Food Banks.

The Restaurant Meals Program (RMP) is a long-standing federally approved program for states that allows eligible people in vulnerable communities, such as seniors, those with disabilities, and individuals experiencing homelessness, to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase prepared meals at qualifying restaurants. California is currently one of only eight states operating an RMP. The program has been successful in improving food access for our most vulnerable populations, many of whom are unable to prepare meals for themselves, but the current application process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and requires submission via postal mail with minimal assistance offered by USDA, making it harder for states and restaurants to apply to this critical program.

Specifically, the Meals for At-Risk Americans Act would address flaws in the RMP application process by:

  • Requiring the USDA Secretary to create a rule no later than one year after the date of enactment that includes a digital application and guidance for states seeking to establish RMPs;
  • Requiring USDA to provide status updates to states and restaurants with pending RMP applications;
  • And requiring USDA to offer enhanced technical assistance to states and restaurants seeking to apply to the RMP.

This legislation is endorsed by the National Restaurant Association, the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), the California Association of Food Banks, and GRACE/End Child Poverty in California.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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