Food Stamp Restrictions—An American Ideal?
There is a watershed philosophical decision that is being debated in America. At issue here are two diametrically opposed world viewpoints. On one hand is individual freedom and responsibility on which this country was founded. On the other hand is what is determined to be the best course for society in general as determined by the government. And further more, are these ideals mutually exclusive? We are talking about Individualism vs. Socialism.
The issue? If American taxpayers are paying for part of certain American’s food through the food stamp program, should the government be allowed to dictate which food items can be bought with the food stamps? As of 2008 over 46 million Americans receive some dietary assistance.
Those in favor of limiting food stamp recipients to using food stamps to buy only healthy food items point to the fact that food stamps purchases are already restricted. Currently, funds from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are restricted from buying tobacco, alcohol, and ‘hot foods’. Now there is increasing interest in many of the states to prohibit the purchases of ‘non-staple, unhealthy foods’.
Proponents of limiting SNAP funds to the purchase of ‘healthy foods’ cite a 2008 USDA report which found "some evidence" to suggest that food stamp participation increased body mass index, and might contribute to obesity in non-elderly women, though not in children, the elderly and non-elderly men. Since obesity is becoming an ever increasing health problem in the US, it only makes sense for the government to do what it can to reduce the caloric intake of its citizens.
When you consider that more and more Americans are receiving their healthcare through government programs, either Medicare or Medicaid, should the government be allowed (required?) to do what it can to reduce the total outlay for healthcare? After all, the government is already trying to reduce its total healthcare expenditure on the delivery side by reducing compensation to doctors and hospitals through fee reductions for medical procedures by healthcare providers. Doesn’t it make sense to reduce total healthcare expenditure by decreasing the amount of healthcare required by preventing diseases in the first place?
Opponents of placing more restrictions on the food items that can be purchased with SNAP funds feel that the restrictions will stigmatize the recipients. They believe that some people, who qualify for and need SNAP benefits, will not even apply for the assistance because they will be looked upon as second class citizens. The SNAP advocates think that we should do everything we can as a society to provide for the basic needs of every citizen, especially with the economic downturn in which we currently find our selves.
To combat this perceived stigmatization Washington is looking for other ways to encourage healthful eating among the poor: In Hampden County, Mass., a federal pilot program is kicking 30 cents on every dollar back to SNAP participants when they buy fruits and vegetables with their benefit cards. Anything that incentivizes people to eating healthy, rather that force them to eat healthy is worth pursuing.
From a practical standpoint, restricting the food items that can be bought with SNAP benefits will have little positive effect. In the 2010 fiscal year, $65 billion in food stamps were distributed, with an average benefit per recipient in a household of $133 per month. This represents a small fraction of the total household food budget for most households. Since any money budgeted for food is fungible, most households will buy the ‘healthy food’ -- such as fruits and vegetables, bread, dairy, etc.--with their SNAP benefits, but that will just leave more of their own money to buy the ‘junk food’ that they want to buy. The overall affect of this will be little positive change in obesity or health.
Perhaps we can use SNAP to help educate recipients toward healthier eating. The government can provide monthly information that the recipients are given when they receive their SNAP funds. If the program required SNAP recipients to make a trip to the local office to reload their SNAP card and received information on healthier eating, there will be a certain percentage that will follow the recommendations, and be better off because of the information. After all, the intent of SNAP is to help Americans acquire the nutrients they need. Let’s go a step further and help them to be healthier through healthier eating habits.
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Tuesday, 29 May 2012
posted by L J Alvis
Why should people who eat healthy be stigmatized?
Who are the foolish people who consider anyone who uses food stamps second class citixzens? "Stamps" are nothing more than "coupons" .
Why not issue coupons for healthy categories of food, such as produce, meat, cheese, etc.?
Everyone uses coupons, or should, at some time for some products. I'm a doctor's wife - I use coupons!
Get with the program - healthy and free! It doesn't get any better than than.
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