Should the government dictate what items people can buy with food stamps?
That’s the subject of an article I read about a week ago in our local paper. Here’s a link to the online version, if anyone is interested: A ‘Healthier’ Food Stamp or Just a Heavy Hand?
The issue up for discussion is whether food stamps (or SNAP – supplemental nutrition assistance program – as it’s now known) should be restricted to use only for “healthy” foods. Currently this assistance can be used to purchase soda, koolaid and any and all types of junk food. On one side are health advocates who worry about the effects of junk food consumption on one’s health and the alarmingly high rates of obesity. On the other side are those that worry that these restrictions are “condescending, probably wouldn’t be effective and would stigmatize aid recipients.” I understand the argument that restrictions might seem “condescending” but the fact is that advice about nutrition can be baffling. If restricting SNAP use to healthy food helps (ok, forces) people to make good food choices, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And I really don’t understand how this would be “stigmatizing” to the users of this program.
This idea might limit participants choices at a grocery store, but there are still plenty of choices to be had. Just walk through the produce section of a large supermarket and you’ll see how many choices are left even when you restrict unhealthy purchases.
Almost fifty years ago, some questioned the use of assistance to purchase soda. Senator Paul Douglas said, “I do not want to include Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola or any of that family (in the Food Stamp Act)… I want to help the poor and hungry and not sacrifice them for Coca-Cola. .. The only benefit I see in the present language is that it will increase the sales of Coca-Cola and other cola and soft drink companies.” Surely we can agree that soft drinks do not need to be paid for with food stamps. I don’t see that as a basic need.
I am 100% in favor of nutritional assistance, but I think this benefit should be used to purchase nutritionally valuable items. The word nutrition is right there in the name of this program – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – and there is NO nutritional value in any soft drink and in so many forms of junk food available.
If anyone else has opinions on this, I’d love to hear them. Even if it’s just to tell me that you completely disagree with me. :)