Soda
Mayor Bloomberg's plan would have cut soda and sugared drinks out of the food stamp program. Image: Flickr / Svadlani / CC-BY-ND

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:

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.

Sources

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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