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Once-affluent Americans now use food stamps to shop

Who would have believed 10% of Americans now need food stamps to eat? Washington state’s Costco Wholesale Corp, a retailer much like South Africa’s Makro, does. The group, which normally caters to affluent bargain-hunters, says it will start accepting food stamps at its warehouse clubs nationwide, having tested the concept at stores in New York. The number of Americans relying on federal food subsidies has climbed to a record 36 million. Costco managers were leery over whether customers would use food stamps, but new club members claim to be joining precisely because of that. The company hopes to accept food stamps at half of its 407 stores before end-November, but has to gain regulatory approval state by state. As a measure of how embarrassing and demeaning many Americans think food stamps are, most users now carry a swipe-card that makes paying more discreet, and speeds checkout and reimbursement for retailers. About half of Costco's customers are small businesses, but its other shoppers are largely more affluent than shoppers at traditional grocery chains. Management says the use of food stamps by those who were not very poor is a wake-up call in terms of how the economy has changed.Read more: AP, Costco

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