Will food stamps stop paying for junk food?

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.

Comments

  1. Felicia Hardrick

    I personally think that people should be able to eat whatever they want to eat. There are way to many other issues to be concern with other than what people buy to eat.

  2. Deb Ulsh

    The problem I have with the answer “people should be able to eat whatever they want to eat” is that they are not paying for the junk food, the general populace is. I do not believe that food stamps should pay for candy or junk food such as cookies, chips, and soda. If their family wants those foods, they should be paid for in cash that the family earned – after all the bills have been paid! I have worked all my life except recently and I did not like observing that food stamps allowed for buying non-necessities like candy and soda. However, a few years ago my life circumstances changed drastically and I had to rely on food stamps to feed myself. And because of this, I have some suggestions for both DSHS and other food stamp clients. I can understand kids wanting snacks – but the snacks should be healthy like fruit. If the family must have cookies, then bake them yourself. The ingredients will make up far more cookies than can be found in a package of cookies for less than one third the cost. And if you bake enough you can sell some to your neighbors! I was glad to see that food stamps now cover Papa Murphy’s pizza because even poor people deserve a treat occasionally!

    A few suggestions for DSHS:
    1. Contract with major grocery stores such as Safeway, Winco, or Costco to further subsidize costs of raw meat, fruits, and vegetables to encourage families to cook meals that contain foods from all the recommended food groups.
    2. Add toilet paper to the allowed list of approved items for food stamps. It isn’t a food, but it is a necessity!
    3. Offer free seminars on buying food, planning meals, cooking healthy, finding employment, and managing stress. Perhaps even require annual attendance to a shopping and cooking healthy seminar to teach people how to get the most from their food stamps.

  3. Sarah

    Junk food is cheap. That is why the majority of families on SNAP benefits purchase low-cost “junk” food. How much does it cost to make at home an inexpensive cut of pot roast? I just made one for $23 and I purchased all the ingredients at Meijer, taking advantage of any items on sale. Yes, I can use the seasonings for future meals, but a $23 one-time dinner to feed my family cuts into a huge portion of our SNAP benefits. SNAP pays for $126/person/mo which equates to $1.40/person/meal. One large apple can cost $1.99. Trust me, I would much rather eat fresh produce, meat, and cheese than mac and cheese, cereal, crackers, pizza, but the healthy items are expensive! That is why you see more families make the wise decision to budget their SNAP benefits and purchase cheap junk food so that their benefits last all month. If we blew our SNAP on preferred veggies and fruits we would not be budgeting. If the state truly cared about family wellness while consuming food & beverages the state would budget out a realistic dollar amount for meals consisting of healthy food groups per person per meal and it would cost a heck of a lot more than $1.40 but save the state in the long run in state funded health insurance as they would see a cut-down on obesity, diabetes, heart health, etc. Just because a family loses a job due to politics, tax cuts, poor upper management, corporate bankruptcy, overseas job transfers, etc, doesn’t mean that family should be reduced to eating junk food on SNAP. The poor should have access to healthy food, too.

    1. Shan Thomas

      I totally agree with this. In my mind set I see Corporate America flooding the market with poor quality items, including food. This produces massive waste in an area that could feed millions of hungry and undernourished people. Instead of thrashing fresh produce after rotating. Set up programs within neighborhoods where people can obtain these items. This could also save government dollars for food expenditures. The same would go for any items in this facility. Then the companies that participate in these programs could receive massive tax breaks producing win, win situations.

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