WHAT OTHERS SAY: Don't kill food stamps, but restrict access to sugary drinks

Friday, July 19, 2013 | 4:28 p.m. CDT; updated 2:57 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 20, 2013

The wrangling over the Farm Bill has been especially contentious in Congress this go-round.

Every five years when the measure is renewed, debate seems to become more rancorous. Even so, the move by the U.S. House to remove food stamps from the bill appears especially spiteful.

Fortunately, the vote last week may have been largely symbolic, as the bill now moves to conference for both houses to hammer out the details.

SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) literally has saved lives by providing food to those in need. To strip the program out of the Farm Bill without a suitable plan for replacing this assistance is unacceptable.

A growing number of citizens, however, understand this program — like farming practices — needs to be sustainable. SNAP has swelled to providing food to 47 million Americans.

This amounts to 15 percent of the population, up from the range of 8 to 11 percent common from the mid 1970s to 2009. Spending has risen from $30.4 billion in 2007 to $74.6 billion last year.

It’s past time to examine the program and make adjustments so it serves its true purpose of helping those in need and promoting nutrition. One such reasonable proposal has been put forward by mayors of 18 large cities and echoed by the American Medical Association.

Both groups urge Congress to limit the use of food stamps to buy sugary drinks, which the doctors say amount to 58 percent of beverage purchases in the SNAP program and annual spending of $2 billion. The groups point out SNAP is designed to supplement nutrition in recipients’ diets.

The next day, the AMA said it was committed to working on removing sugar-sweetened beverages from the SNAP program and encouraging health agencies to include nutrition information in materials sent to food stamp recipients.

Food stamps already have restrictions, such as no alcohol or non-food items. Electronic scanning makes it easier than ever to regulate these purchases.

This simple change would not restrict access to sodas. It would, however, require everyone to use their own discretionary income and not tax-funded programs to purchase them.

Perhaps such a change would cause more people to make healthier choices. For sure, it would get the government out of the role of paying for products that do not advance the cause of nutrition.

Copyright St. Joseph News-Press. Reprinted with permission.

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