TULSA, Okla. -- Convenience stores including QuikTrip and 7-Eleven, as well as tobacco shops, substance abuse rehabilitation centers and take-and-bake pizza shops across Oklahoma, received millions in food stamp purchases during a nearly two-year period examined by The Tulsa World. But much of the nearly $1.2 billion in food stamp expenditures went to Walmart stores, which brought in about $506 million between July 2009 and March 2011, according to data supplied by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
The food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program administered in Oklahoma by the Department of Human Services. Retailers must go through an approval process with the USDA, while the state DHS determines recipient eligibility.
Although most shopping is done at larger stores, smaller c-stores are making a sizable amount of food stamp sales, said the report.
"When they can't get to a grocery store, that's when they use the convenience store," Priscilla Miner, family resources coordinator at the Tulsa Housing Authority, told the paper. "You can't get everything you need there, but there may be lunch meat, bread, chips or soda."
Statewide, QuikTrip is among the most popular c-store chains, with about $10 million in food stamp sales, said the report.
QuikTrip spokesperson Mike Thornbrugh said the company has been participating in the program since it has been offered. Items most often purchased with food stamps are staples--milk, bread and eggs. "We do have more items than most convenience stores and are conveniently located in areas that may not have anything else," Thornbrugh told the World.
Other convenience stores redeeming food stamps include 7-Eleven stores, at about $12.7 million; Kum & Go stores, at about $2.7 million; Jiffy Trip, at about $648,000; and Stop & Save, at about $385,900, the report said. Independent tobacco retailers in Oklahoma City accounted for about $304,000 in food stamp sales. Britton Discount Cigarettes led tobacco retailers by redeeming about $67,500 in food stamps. Discount Cigarettes & Food Store had about $64,200 in food stamp sales.
Though recipients might live within a mile of a store that accepts food stamps, most recipients travel more than 10 miles for the bulk of the food-stamp spending, according to the newspaper's analysis.
The Walmart Supercenter in Tulsa redeemed the most food stamp dollars in Tulsa County since mid-2009, data show. The store redeemed roughly $15.3 million in food stamps, which was second in the state to Midwest City's Crest Discount Foods, which redeemed about $17 million in food stamp sales during that time.
Tulsa County stores accepted more than $190 million in food stamps since mid-2009, the paper found.
Walmart stores held six of the top 10 positions, and Warehouse Markets held the other four spots. Some of Tulsa County's larger stores to redeem food stamps included Warehouse Market, about $65.5 million; Homeland stores, at about $67.3 million; Reasor's, at about $30.8 million and Save-a-Lot, at about $24 million.
Stores in small towns also showed high usage, said the report. For example, Rush Springs Discount Store in Grady County accepted $960,600 worth of food stamps, while Marvin's Foods and Harp's Food, both in rural eastern Oklahoma counties, accepted $15.8 million and $9.3 million, respectively, it said.
According to state data, about $910,000 was spent at substance abuse treatment centers since mid-2009. About $452,700 in goods were purchased with food stamps at Salvation Army rehabilitation centers.
About $555,900 was spent on takeout pizza, mostly from Papa Murphy's Take-and-Bake Pizza, bringing in $551,300 in food stamp sales for the chain. Papa Murphy's is a business where a pizza is prepared on site to be taken home to cook and serve.
DHS spokesperson Sheree Powell said the USDA makes the determination on retailer qualifications. "SNAP requires that only food intended to be eaten at home be purchased with SNAP benefits," she told the paper.
A retailer must offer on a continuous basis at least three varieties of qualifying foods in each of four staple-food categories: breads/cereals, dairy products, fruits/vegetables and meat/fish/poultry. At least two of these categories must include perishable foods. It must have more than 50% of its total gross sales in staple foods. Staple foods do not include accessory foods such as coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, noncarbonated drinks, candy, condiments, hot foods or foods made to takeout, like prepared sandwiches or salad.
Stores must be reauthorized at least once every five years. Visits can be made at any time to ensure compliance. Retailers are paid electronically with no cash exchanged. Based on the previous day's purchases, Oklahoma draws the money from the federal government and transmits via the state treasurer to a vendor, which then reimburses the retailers electronically.