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Statement Regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s Proposal to Ban Soda and Sugared Beverage Purchases with SNAP/Food Stamp Benefits by Joel Berg, Executive Director, NYC Coalition Against Hunger

October 8, 2010

“This is yet another instance of America’s “do as we say, not as we do” approach towards poor people.

On a legal basis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be forced to reject the City’s request for a so-called waiver to enact the ban (as they have rejected similar requests in the past), because the Department has no authority to unilaterally ban foods, including soda, that are allowed in the program under federal laws previously enacted by Congress.

Not only is banning soft drink purchases by SNAP recipients telling low-income Americans that they are uniquely unsuited to make decisions about what is best for their own health, this proposed ban will fail to meet the proponents’ anti-obesity objectives.  There is no evidence whatsoever that low-income people who receive SNAP benefits shop any less nutritiously than others with similar low incomes. The problem isn’t that they make bad food choices – the problem is that they can’t afford to make healthier choices.

A much better approach than taxing or banning so-called “junk” foods is to take action to make healthier food more affordable and available to struggling families. My group supported the Mayor’s efforts to encourage street vendors to sell fresh produce in low-income areas of New York City, and we’ve also assisted farmers’ markets and community supported agriculture projects and have worked diligently to enable more of these programs to accept SNAP benefits. We are also big supporters of food-producing community gardens.  The truth is that low-income New Yorkers rally to these programs, even if they must spend limited dollars or volunteer their limited free time to do so.

Forbidding the use of SNAP benefits to purchase an occasional soft drink may make the non-poor feel more noble but it will fail to reduce obesity.  A much fairer alternative is to increase the purchasing power of SNAP and ensure that more stores both accept those benefits and stock healthier foods that operate in poor neighborhoods.

Low-income people want what we all want: the ability to make their own smart choices and to improve their own lives.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Casey permalink
    October 8, 2010 3:42 pm

    SNAP is a nutrition program and soda is not nutritious. Low-income people are free to continue killing themselves and their children with soda but should not be using taxpayer money to do so.

  2. Jason permalink
    November 5, 2010 1:54 pm

    Food Stamp Benefits are taxpayer subsidized monies made available for qualifying participants who are in need of essential foods. Those advocates pushing for more liberal eligibility and spending allowances are lacking an ability to set firm definitions on the program in the first place. What are ‘essential foods’?
    Should a birthday cake qualify as SNAP Benefit eligible?
    Is an $18 bottle of organic premium olive oil?
    How about ready to eat organic food from a hot bar or salad bar?

    Sometime soon New York City and State needs to get off the liberal pulpit and set firm rules for retailers and participants to follow. The current set is firmly grey by design.

    Oh, and taxpayer subsidized soda? That’s also tax free, bottle deposit free…but it isn’t free of cost.

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