New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently submitted a plan to the federal government that he felt would combat obesity and diabetes. The plan would cut sugary drinks and sodas off the list of approved food stamp items. The federal government, however, has said no to the proposal.
Bloomberg’s proposal for food stamps
The federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides money for low-income or at-risk individuals and families to get basic food items. Current regulations state that SNAP benefits can be used to purchase any food product for home consumption or seeds or plants that will produce food. Mayor Bloomberg submitted a proposal that would have limited what New York City SNAP beneficiaries could purchase with their benefits. The limitation would take drinks with more than a certain number of calories off the list of products that could be purchased with food stamps.
Why the USDA rejected the proposal
The U.S. Department of Agriculture rejected Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal for limiting SNAP benefits. Thomas Vilsack, head of the USDA, outlined the reasons for rejection in a letter to Bloomberg. These reasons included:
- “We are concerned that the scale and scope of the proposed demonstration is too large and complex.”
- “The proposal lacks a clear and practical means to determine product eligibility, which is essential to avoid retailer confusion at point-of-sale and stigma for affected clients.”
- The project design “is not adequate to provide sufficient assurance of credible, meaningful results” on the stated goal of reducing obesity and promoting good health.
Arguments for and against
Bloomberg’s proposal to ban soda purchases with SNAP benefits has drawn both applause and criticism. Bloomberg and other supporters argue that tax-supported food benefit programs like SNAP should only pay for nutritious food. Supporters also argue that when SNAP benefits can be used to pay for cake, microwave meals, sodas and other high-calorie or sugary foods, the costs to state-supported health programs go up, and end up costing the state more in the end.
Detractors point out that limiting what can be purchased with tax-supported programs often takes a one-size-fits all approach that does not work for everyone. Detractors also voice concern that limiting the foods that can be purchased with tax-supported benefits is overreaching, and that individual choice should be respected.
Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903596904576518902332775160.html
New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/nyregion/ban-on-using-food-stamps-to-buy-soda-rejected-by-usda.html
USDA Website http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/retailers/eligible.htm
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