Costco said it would accept food stamps nationally, in an expansion of a New York City program that was announced in May after local politicians placed pressure on the company. Food stamp enrollment has soared nationwide, and in New York it has surged to 1.6 million.
Company executives hope to have food stamp acceptance in place in half the company's 407 warehouse-style stores by Thanksgiving, including the new East Harlem Costco, according to Richard Galanti, chief financial officer of Costco, which is based in Issaquah, Wash. "Even though it impacts a very small percentage of our members, we believe it's the right thing to do," Mr. Galanti said.
Mr. Galanti said in New York, the company had attracted a small number of new members who paid the $50 annual membership fee and then began using food stamps. But he added, "Our decision to accept food stamps was not done because of the hope we should procure extra customers."
The policy, which was detailed by the chief executive, James D. Sinegal , in an interview with The Seattle Times, has been in development over the last few months. While the company had once protested that it was difficult to configure its computer systems to accept food stamps — given that Costco sells many other products besides food — Costco has now embraced the idea. "The reality is: if we are going to do it, let's go ahead and do it," he said.
In addition to its locations in New York, Costco also has been accepting food stamps in El Centro, Calif., and Puerto Rico (where the policy has been in place for more than two years).
Costco executives gave credit to New York politicians for putting the issue on the radar. "I think New York played a role in the nudging process," Mr. Galanti said. "It was a pleasant nudging."