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Food stamps and Fanta shouldn't mix

September 19, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Is it paternalistic or just common sense to deny sugary soft drinks to those on food stamps?
Is it paternalistic or just common sense to deny sugary soft drinks to those… (Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg…)

To those who don’t much care for Mitt Romney (and perhaps for those who can’t decide), his railing about the 47% who don’t pay taxes blah blah blah clinches it: The guy just doesn’t get it.

But there are plenty of folks out there who applaud what Romney said. And here’s one example of why:

Food stamps buy up to $2.1 billion a year in sugary drinks, study says.”

That’s the headline on a story Wednesday by my colleague Rosie Mestel.  As she writes:

The federal food assistance program SNAP pays $1.7 billion to $2.1 billion for purchases of sugar-sweetened beverages every year, a new study has found.

Meanwhile, the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we cut back on consumption of sugary drinks.

A disconnect? The authors seem to think so.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits are important, they stress, but "allowing annual use of multibillions of SNAP benefits to purchase products that are at the core of public health concerns about obesity and chronic illnesses appears misaligned with the goals of helping low-income families live active, healthy lives.”

Yes. It does appear to be “misaligned.”  It also appears to be dumb. Not to mention, it feeds into the Romney narrative that there are a lot of freeloaders in America who are wasting taxpayer money.

Now, I’m not defending what Romney said. Heck, at a couple of points in my life, I’ve been one of those 47-percenters he disses.

But I’m also a taxpayer, and a believer in hard work and self-reliance and personal responsibility, and so here it is: People on food stamps shouldn’t be allowed to buy junk to eat and drink.

Too harsh, you say? That’s what Barbara Laraia of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health says too, in a  commentary she wrote on the study:  

"Restrictions on soda purchases would not achieve their goal if participation rates declined or if soda purchases were replaced with purchases of other energy-dense foods," she wrote. "A second major criticism affecting restrictions on SNAP benefits is that these send a paternalistic message: that it is OK to restrict what poor Americans purchase with federal dollars, presumably because they do not know any better."

Well, yes, maybe it is paternalistic.  But it’s also common sense.  We have an obesity problem in this country, and sugary drinks contribute mightily to it.  Heck, in New York, the mayor has banned the sale of certain-sized sugary drinks, and that’s for everyone, not just those on the dole.

So why shouldn’t the government set harsher rules on what you can buy with food stamps?  

And if you are on assistance and think that’s unfair?  Simple: Get off food stamps.

Because if it isn’t your money, it’s not your rules.

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