Food Stamps Shouldn't Pay for Junk Food
Congress needs to change the rules: Charles Lane
By Evann Gastaldo, Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2013 2:45 PM CDT
You shouldn't be able to buy this with food stamps, writes Charles Lane in the Washington Post.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

(Newser) – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, you'll notice, has the word "nutrition" in the title. So why is it that SNAP debit cards, aka food stamps, can be used to purchase such decidedly non-nutritious items as Cheetos and Fanta orange soda? The Agriculture Department itself states, on its website, that "soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items." This is ridiculous, writes Charles Lane in the Washington Post, and he places the blame squarely on Congress "for not updating SNAP to reflect nutritional common sense."

This is particularly disturbing since "obesity, hypertension, and diabetes ... disproportionately affect low-income Americans but increase the entire country’s health-care bill," Lane writes. A nonprofit physicians' group recommends SNAP purchases be limited to whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans; Lane thinks it makes sense to also include fish, poultry, and lean red meat. If SNAP recipients want to buy junk food, they can use their own money. "The point is to increase the amount of real nutrition per taxpayer dollar," Lane writes. "If you take Uncle Sam’s help, you play by his rules." Click for his full column.

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Showing 3 of 273 comments
liandro
Mar 20, 2013 7:58 PM CDT
What arrogant elitist nonsense. Of course I appreciate the problem of obesity, diabetes, heart disease we have in this country. And I even grant that there is legitimate concern and good intentions among proponents of this concept. But it's still arrogant and elitist, and wrong. To that end, I suggest that a lot of this attitude isn't about health or nutrition, this is about punishing people already struggling, a real tea party smugness. You mean someone on SNAP can't have a treat now and then? First, there are many better ways to encourage wiser food choices than depriving someone of the occasional bag of chips, and, last, I'd bet the writer never had to rely on food stamps. What, you think everybody on stamps has lots of money left over, and if they do, they should reserve it for their junk food treat? What profound ignorance. Mr. Lane, you never eat ice cream? You do? So poor people can't have any? Sure, there are plenty of people who load up on junk, who do make real bad choices. You know what? So do plenty of people not on food stamps. Most of the country, it seems. But only the poor are to be prohibited by fiat, eh? And, by the way, who gets to decide? Is a whole grain all-natural packaged mac and cheese mix(say, Annie's brand)to be prohibited? Mac and cheese is far from the healthiest choice--but by gum it's whole grain. How about real maple syrup for those whole grain home-made waffles? Maple syrup is essentially as empty a calorie as sugar or corn syrup. And you know those fruit-juice sweetened products that scream "No Added Sugar!"? That fruit juice concentrate is denatured and treated so it's no different nutritionally than table sugar. It's easy to compartmentalize all the obviously empty calorie foods like soda and candy, but there's a whole lot of middle ground here that can get mighty tricky. I mentioned other ways to encourage wise food choices. One would be to require food stamp applicants to take a short course on nutrition and diet, online or on paper, including the economics of unprocessed foods, whole foods, and produce. Of course that won't stop everyone, but given how little many impoverished people actually do know about heatlhty food and nutrition--and it's a disappointing and surprisingly high number-- this could help. And if we're going to regulate something, how about requiring major supermarket chains to open stores in poor or urban neighborhoods in exchange for permits to open stores in affluent neighborhoods (I would leave Whole Foods out of this program, only because their prices are avaricious)? In so many places, people have no choice but to buy at bodegas or small convenience-store type markets--and they ain't gonna find quinoa there, sir. How about this: a tax break for stores that offer incentives to SNAP participants on purchases of healthier foods? (That would face hurdles, because stores make lots of profit on junk food, much more than on produce, but that's a hurdle than can be jumped.) Here's another one: ban junk food ads from all children's TV programming. We all know that parents give in to kid's demands for that food, and it's exponentially worse when the parents have no real nutritional grounding. So before you decide to SNAP a towel on those who might want to buy their kids some ice cream now and then, take a step back. No, take a step forward and walk a mile in their shoes. And you might want to add to my list of suggested remedies, and write and enlist some worthy organizations to push for programs and ideas that would help the entire population make healthier dietary choices. BTW, I am a former owner of a natural foods store, and have been eating natural foods for over 35 years. I do eat a lot of whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes. But so what? I sure do like a Ben & Jerry's now and then, and maybe even an occasional sweet lemonade or even, god forbid, even a can of soda, and I want that option for everyone, no matter their economic status. And hey, you might think I'm some sort of libertarian nutcase. Nope. I just don't like classist foolishness. I do, in fact, support Bloomberg's attempt to limit the size of these obscene big gulps. It makes eminent sense that most people are not going to buy, carry, and deal with two 16 oz sodas at one time. It's just really inconvenient, as is drinking one and coming back to buy another. It's a program that was worth a try.
clmsman
Mar 20, 2013 3:00 PM CDT
No brainer I saw a mom buying a decorated sheet cake with foodstamps for her rug rats BD Party. Remember that POS in MI that won the lottery and still using her card and thought nothing of it and her excuse was no one stopped it. This is what we have when you let a welfare state go out of control with people that have no sense of right or wrong and just feel its their slice of the pie whether they need it or not. Democrats love these low lifes they encourage them to do what they do!
mommy_of_samhain
Mar 20, 2013 1:33 PM CDT
I think there are people who abuse the system deliberately, and there are those who just don't know how to eat well or shop well. I live in a public housing high rise for disabled people and management here has volunteers from various community organizations come in frequently and conduct classes on cooking and shopping healthy and budget management. They also provide a van to transport residents to the various grocery stores or food banks almost every day of the week. I don't know where they got the van, maybe a block grant or maybe community-wide fundraising, but I know it is a big help for the people who use it. I recently fired one of my caregivers, though, and one of the things that ticked me off was that I always gave her cash to shop for my groceries. I'm not receiving food stamps because with my veterans' disability pension and my social security disability pension, I get too much money to qualify. Well, I assume so. I haven't really applied because I manage to buy my groceries with that money. Anyway, my receipts were showing EBT purchases. I didn't know what that was; I thought it was something to do with either the Box Tops For Education program or the Labels for Education problem. But, after one receipt showed a little over a hundred dollars in EBT purchases, I called the grocery store to find out exactly what EBT purchases were. They told me it was for food stamp purchases. She was paying for some of my groceries with her food stamps and keeping the cash I had given her to pay for my groceries. Oh, you better believe I turned her in right after I fired her. I don't know what she was buying with that cash, but I know she was drinking a lot because she would often call me at odd hours drunk and the day I did fire her, you could smell the alcohol on her from across the room. Before I became disabled, I worked full time and often had a part time job at the same time and did volunteer work and had a Girl Scout Troupe. I never minded people who needed help getting it from the government , but I surely hated seeing people game the system.