With the SNAP food stamp program now providing assistance to over 40 million people at a cost of $71 billion dollars per year, there are several states that are seeking to change some of the terms and conditions of this benefit. One proposal will be to prevent food stamps recipients from being able to pay for junk food type items, including soda, snacks, ice cream, cookies, and other unhealthy products.
This change has been discussed at length before. But with Republicans now controlling all parts of the federal government, it is more likely to occur in 2017 or 2018 than anytime in the past. States including Maine, Georgia, Arkansas, and other mostly Republican held states are pushing for these changes. Other health care professionals are also supportive of changes to this list of food assistance programs.
Thoughts behind the proposed changes
The proposals are very controversial. On one hand are those people that argue that why is the federal government paying for junk food when it just helps perpetuate the obesity crisis hitting our country? Those individuals often say that food stamps now bans the purchase of items such as alcohol and cigarettes, so why not stop them from being able to pay for soda, unhealthy cookies, candy, gum, and the like?
One the other hand are those that say the data does not support the fact that SNAP food stamp recipients eat any unhealthier than everyone else. Per a U.S. Department of Agriculture study that was done in 2017, SNAP recipients spend about 20 cents of every dollars towards what could be considered “junk food”, including candy, sugary drinks, etc. This is within a percentage point or two of what non-SNAP households spend. So the difference in eating and spending habits is immaterial.
Even though those studies show that food stamp people do not buy significantly more junk type foods, some states still feel that families enrolled on them should not be able to purchase junk food. The argument is why is the government paying for soda, candy, cookies, chips, and more junk items.
If SNAP were to encourage the purchase of more healthy items, such as low fat food, fruits, etc, then that could lead to a healthier society. Meaning less money spent on Medicaid, health care, and other costs that result from living an unhealthy lifestyle. Or maybe it would reduce the number of diabetics in this country.
The fact is our nation does have a health care crisis. As of 2017, programs including Medicaid and Medicare account for over $1.1 trillion dollars per year in spending. Imagine if Americans ate a little healthier? Even a small, 10% reduction in the cost of those medical programs could save the government over $100 billion dollars per year.
So why shouldn’t the government “encourage” healthier eating by slightly changing the food stamp program? After all, if someone wants to use any form of public assistance then some form of restrictions seem reasonable. And if they do not agree with those restrictions, then they can get off of SNAP aid!
With Republicans now in control of the federal government and the majority of state governorship’s, expect to see a debate on SNAP food stamps and other benefits as we progress throughout 2017. It would not surprise us to see more work requirements, restrictions on what types of groceries can be bought with food stamps including junk food, and other changes.