Should Food Stamp Purchases Be Limited to Healthy Food?

Fooducate (a great app to use in the grocery store to see
how healthy your food really is) asked the title question on their
blog
. My response: The choices should be limited to
healthy foods. They listed these potential objections, to
which I would ask people to simply consider a parallel of neighbors
helping each other.

  • Limiting the food choices
    is paternalistic nanny state oversight.
Limiting choices on drink
sizes is ridiculous. That is true nanny-statism. But
this is vastly different: You have a choice to accept or reject the
free food offered by fellow citizens.
Would you accuse your neighbor of such things if they only
offered you free healthy food?
  • Eliminating food
    choice would create a stigma and shame SNAP
    beneficiaries.
What stigma? You are getting free food.
You should be grateful.
  • The diets of SNAP
    participants are generally comparable to the diets of Americans of
    similar economic means, so why single poor people out?
Because taxpayers are paying for their food.
  • The cost of reprogramming computers and retraining
    grocery store staff for the hundreds of thousands of food items in
    stores is prohibitive.
It would be worth it to help those people.
And it would save on the medical
costs.
  • Where will the line be drawn between healthy /
    non-healthy foods? Is a cereal with 12 grams of sugar nutritious? 8
    grams? 4 grams? What if it has added fiber?
The details could be worked
out. I would make things really simple and focus on things like
oatmeal, milk, bread, cheese, fruits, etc. And I wouldn’t let
them have cards that they could sell for cash and use it for drugs,
cigarettes, bad food, etc. Part of our problem is that by
trying to save money with technology (normally a good thing!) we’ve
made it too easy to abuse the program. That kills the cost
savings.

8 thoughts on “Should Food Stamp Purchases Be Limited to Healthy Food?”

  1. Totally agree. Food stamps should be more like the WIC program where you can get basic healthy foods only. If they want other things, beyond the basics necessary to survive, they should get a job and pay for it themselves (like the rest of us have to). We are willing to help people stay alive by providing them with healthy food, but we shouldn’t be paying for people to ruin their health with junk food. And we certainly shouldn’t be making it easy for them to turn food stamp money into drugs and alcohol by cheating the system.

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  2. Lindsay stole my thunder a bit. SNAP should be like WIC where only the foundational ingredients can be purchased. Not only is it healthier to prepare your own food, you can get so much more of it. Cooking really isn’t that difficult, and even if youre a novice in the kitchen there are a plethora of affordable cookbooks out there to help anyone.

    potatoes, meats, rices, vegetables, dairies, etc. are what real food is made of anyway.

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  3. Hey, two commenters already said it: WIC operates this way! You can get beans, lentils, grains, store-brand cereal, cheese, and other healthy foods, but no junk.

    In reality, if food stamps only covered healthy food, there would be a lot less fraud.

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  4. The problem is that many recipients of public assistance feel entitled to it, and therefore entitled to use their allowance as they see fit. They don’t look at it the way we do – as a handout paid-for by tax dollars which were forcibly confiscated from people who actually earned them.

    The abuse of SNAP and other programs is a symptom, not a cause, of a larger overall attitude problem among many of the people receiving the benefits. I too think it should work like WIC and I don’t know why it doesn’t.

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  5. We used to be on food stamps AND WIC. For a family of 5, we received about $400 a month. Our monthly grocery bill is normally around $600. I hate to say it, but buying bad food is cheaper and stretches the food stamps so they last longer. I can agree to cut things like soda, candy, chips cookies etc, but dictating what types of foods a family can buy is not realistic.

    When I shopped for the foods dictated to me by WIC, the total cost came to about $80 for the month. WIC not only dictates what type of food, but also the brand. Also not every store accepts WIC. If I shopped for those foods and bought the brand I wanted and at the store I wanted, I could have cut that in half.

    I can buy my kids a bag of apples for $3.47 at Wal-Mart, and it might last 3-4 days, allowing for only one apple a day, Or I could buy a box of 24 packs of those fruit snacks for $3.28 and have it last for 12 days. I could buy 5lbs of ground beef for $13, and get 2 dinners out of it, or I could buy the Mac and Cheese with the powdered cheese mix for .25 cents a box and have 26 meals.
    Changing the way food stamps works to a WIC type system would cost taxpayers more, or it would cause people to go hungry because they aren’t getting enough of the allowance to cover their grocery bill.

    So, would you rather have a poor family be able to put food in their child’s stomach every day, or go hungry part of the time because you feel that you know more about what’s good for them?

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    1. I’d rather pay more to the families that really need it and still save billions on the fraud for those who don’t. And I’d rather see us phase out the subsidies that make healthier foods more expensive.

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