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Costco Says “No Deal” for Food Stamp Recipients

November 20, 2008

Costco may not seem like a exclusive club, but it remains inaccessible for the nearly 28 million Americans receiving food stamps who can not use their benefits at Costco stores. This illogical blot on the record of an otherwise socially-conscious company has been keenly felt by the residents of the Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Astoria housing projects in Queens, all of which are in walking distance of the Long Island City Costco. Representatives of the warehouse buying club claim that the $50 membership fee would prohibit food stamp recipients from shopping at the store anyway.

With the number of city supermarkets dropping by 1/3 in the past five years, warehouse stores—along with bodegas and discount stores—often function as an alternate source of food for low-income New Yorkers, who have been disproportionately affected by the supermarket exodus. Given the fact that the federal government not only reimburses retailers the full price of food stamp transactions and provides chain retailers with free equipment to accept such purchases, the choice not to accept food stamps is a “glaring omission,” said Queens city councilmember Eric N. Gioia. With national food stamp enrollment on the rise, refusing to accept food stamps is not only socially irresponsible, it’s also bad business.

The Long Island City Costco, which opened in 1996, benefited from a zoning loophole which allowed them to open in a residential area, but has relied on a customer base from across the five boroughs. For Long Island City residents, says Berg, “Costco is essentially placing a sign in their window that says ‘Your Business Not Wanted.’ ”

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