Stopping food stamp recipients from spending their aid on soda, potato chips, and cookies may seem like a no-brainer, but states have had a hard time making such rules work. That hasn’t stopped Florida, though, from becoming the next state to try it.
A Florida state senator recently introduced a bill in the state’s legislature that would prevent recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a. SNAP, a.k.a. food stamps) from using the assistance to purchase “nonstaple, unhealthy foods.”
It’s an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. It’s common knowledge that junk food leads to obesity, which is a serious issue in the United States, but attempts to cut overly sugary, salty, and fatty foods from SNAP are also designed to cut program costs. Currently, 46 million Americans receive SNAP assistance.
Alas, it is an attempt that probably will not work. California, Illinois, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont all attempted and failed to implement similar legislation in their states in the past year.
What killed these bills? There are several factors. One, the United States Department of Agriculture, who administers food stamps, has not been willing to let states and cities implement further restrictions beyond the traditional alcohol, cigarettes, and hot foods. Attempts by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban soda purchases with food stamps and by Minnesota to ban soda and candy were blocked by the USDA.
Additionally, anti-hunger advocates and lobbyists for convenience stores, corn growers (high fructose corn syrup, anyone?), makers of frozen potato products and snack food groups have both stood in the way of previous attempts to limit food stamps, and are likely to do so again in Florida.
Should food stamps be restricted to only healthy foods, or are such restrictions a violation of SNAP recipients’ rights? Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Benjamin Nanamaker, InvestorPlace Money & Politics Editor
The opinions contained in this column are solely those of the writer.
Want to share your own views on money, politics and the 2012 elections? Drop us a line at email@example.com and we might reprint your views in our InvestorPolitics blog! Please include your name, city and state of residence. All letters submitted to this address will be considered for publication.