The jury is still out on the farm bill in Congress, but the $4.5 billion in food stamp cuts over a 10-year period approved by the Senate last week is likely to be just the starting point in the House, which takes up the bill after the Fourth of July.
If anything, spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (a k a food stamp) Program should be increased, given the fact that the economy hasn’t recovered enough to allow many of the 46 million Americans who rely on it for sustenance to live without it.
Just as significant is the fact that the cost of food keeps rising — at least the kind that’s nutritionally sound. And therein lies the rub of food stamp cuts: They’re just going to encourage recipients to eat more junk food, contributing to the nation’s obesity problem. The government may spend $80 billion a year on food stamps, but the tab for obesity-related health problems is more than double that amount.
It would make far more sense to raise the monthly allowance for food stamps while restricting their use to nutritionally sound foods: no more chips, soda, candy and the like.
The idea of banning the purchase of junk food with food stamps has been suggested in the past, even tried by some states, including New York under Gov. David Paterson, but the federal government has resisted. In fact, it is so concerned about stigmatizing recipients that it doesn’t even monitor how food stamps are used. (The only rules are that they can’t be used for alcohol, tobacco, pet food or household goods.) It’s time to start keeping track.
If it turns out that food stamps are contributing to the country’s obesity problem, why wouldn’t we want to do something about it? If, in the long run, getting people to eat healthier foods improves their lives and saves the government money, then it’s worth the slightly higher cost.