It may sound shocking, but the FOX 12 Investigators discovered you can use an Oregon Trail Card, which is part of the food stamp program, to purchase the luxury drink at certain Starbucks counters inside grocery stores.
With the help of Jackie Fowler, who has an Oregon Trail Card, FOX 12 went to an in-store Starbucks within a Safeway in Salem. Fowler purchased a tall Frappaccino and slice of pumpkin bread and paid for both using her Oregon Trail card.
"It's crazy," said Fowler, who showed us the receipt for $5.25.
"They're overpriced as it is," said Fowler of the specialty drink. "That's money that somebody could be eating with -- a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk."
Fowler, who made the purchase only for the purpose of our story, says she thinks it's a huge misuse of the food assistance program.
"There are a lot of loopholes," she said.
A spokesman with Safeway told FOX 12 the store recently made the change as an added convenience to customers.
"We think that compliance with state laws is something we can easily do," said Dan Floyd, of Safeway.
According to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines, people cannot buy foods that will be eaten in the store or hot foods. However, luxury items that are allowed include soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream, even bakery cakes and energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label.
While FOX 12 learned you cannot use an Oregon Trail Card at a corporate, stand-alone Starbucks location, the Starbucks inside Safeway is run by the store. Fowler tried to use her card at a stand-alone Starbucks, but was denied.
However, the register at the in-store location considers the purchase a "grocery item" and as long as it's cold, it's allowed, according to store employees.
"It shouldn't be allowed, whether it's a cold item or not," said Fowler. "It's a luxury item. If you really want one (Frappuccino), save your money and go buy one. Don't use the system.
A spokesman with the State Department of Human Services told FOX 12 he wasn't aware this practice was happening.
"We'll contact these grocery stores to get more information and make sure they're operating within the SNAP guidelines," said DHS communications director Gene Evans.
"They need to do something to stop it," said Fowler, who receives around $118 a month for food stamps.
The number varies depending on each person who applies and is deemed eligible.
"It's just enough to get by," describes Fowler, who says there's not much room for splurging. "Don't go abusing the system. It's not what it's for."
FOX 12 also contacted other local stores with in-store Starbucks, including Albertsons and Fred Meyer.
Employees at those locations said as long as the beverage is cold or an approved food, which includes sweets, it would be allowed. Certain additions, such as syrup, are not allowed.
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