Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Queens), who has been advocating for Costco to accept food stamps since living on the food stamp diet in 2007, recently announced that Costco has informed him of their intention to accept food stamps at their East Harlem location when that store opens this fall.
Costco’s existing two New York City locations will accept food stamps sooner. Over 32,000 New Yorkers in East Harlem use food stamps, and the three locations throughout the city will help the 1.2 million food stamp users eat healthier while purchasing food in bulk.
“I’m happy to announce that my office has spoken with Costco and they are planning on accepting food stamps at their new East Harlem location. This is a big victory for East Harlem and New York’s 1.2 million food stamp users. By accepting food stamps, Costco will allow New Yorkers who use food stamps to eat healthier for less. I will be working with Costco in the coming months to help make sure their pilot program is a success.”
Costco informed Gioia’s office that they will release details of their plan to accept food stamps in East Harlem later today.
Councilman Gioia first discovered Costco’s policy towards food stamps when he lived on food stamps for a week in 2007. He was told by many that the wholesale giant might be a way for him to stretch his food budget, but he instead discovered that Costco didn’t accept food stamps at all. Gioia drafted letters to Costco CEO James Sinegal in 2007 and late 2008 calling for the company to change its food stamp policy. Earlier this month, Councilman Gioia and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum again contacted Sinegal, noting their concern as shareholders that Costco’s refusal to accept food stamps put the company at a competitive disadvantage compared to competitors like BJ’s and Sam’s Club, which do accept food stamps. As of March 31, 2009 the city’s five pensions funds held over 1.4 million shares in Costco valued at over $67 million in addition to corporate bonds worth over $2 million.
In this economic downturn, increasing numbers of Americans are turning to food stamps to purchase food. Between February 2008 and February 2009, New York City saw an increase of 195,610 new enrollees. The spending power of this group is also dramatically growing. New York City residents received over $181 million in food stamp benefits in January 2009 alone, and with the recent passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that number is expected to increase to over $200 million monthly.