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PCRM’s Plan to Solve the NYC Food Stamp Controversy
August 22, 2011

The U.S. Department of Agriculture just rejected a proposal from New York Mayor Bloomberg that aimed to block grocers from taking Food Stamps as payment for sodas and other sugary drinks. Bloomberg aimed to fight obesity. The USDA held that the plan was too complicated to implement. It is clear, however, that the USDA had been heavily lobbied by the soda industry and its allies in the grocery business.

I believe the Mayor was on the right track. We have proposed to the City of New York a plan that is simpler, and also cheaper. PCRM’s proposal creates a short, simple list of ‘Healthy Basics”—fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains—that would be covered 100 percent by Food Stamps, the program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The list would not include unhealthful foods like sugary sodas, high-fat dairy foods, and processed meats.

These simple, but nutritious staples are low in fat, sugar, and sodium, and would help reverse America’s worsening epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. If implemented nationwide, the plan would save $240 billion over 10 years, and would reduce the country’s health care costs for decades to come.

Some have argued that it is wrong to limit what economically disadvantaged people can purchase with Food Stamps. I take a different view. It is demeaning to assume that economically disadvantaged people feel a need for junk food. They, like everyone else, recognize that unhealthful foods are creating a serious problem and we do not need free candy and sodas dangled in front of us. Moreover, the Food Stamp program is intended as a supplement—to be used in addition to a person’s own resources. So Food Stamp users are free to buy whatever they wish to with their own funds; there is no need for Food Stamps to be used for luxuries or junk food.

At the moment, nearly 60 percent of New York City adults and 40 percent of its children are overweight, and similar statistics plague other cities. Spending government funds to pay for junk food may be popular with the junk-food industry, but it is bad for citizens, taxpayers, and everyone else. The obesity epidemic will never end until people matter more than food-industry profits.

You can help, too. Please contact the federal government to let your lawmakers know that you want food policies that don’t make us sick.


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