Committee considers pros and cons of restricting food stamp purchases

Should people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, be allowed to buy soda and sugary snacks?

That was the focus of a recent meeting of the House Committee on Agriculture. Committee members heard from a panel of witnesses who discussed the challenges of implementing product restrictions and the need for encouraging healthy purchasing habits.

According to a press release on the committee website, they also discussed the role that incentives and nutrition education can play in changing consumer behavior.

“Nearly 43 million Americans depend on SNAP to provide food for themselves and their families,” said Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas). “It is a vital tool in helping people through tough financial times.”

“While there is a case to be made for encouraging recipients to make healthy purchasing decisions,” he said. “There are also concerns worth noting when it comes to restricting certain food and beverage options.”

Some critics say any restrictions would put a burden on retailers who would have to enforce them, CBS News reported. They also worry about the stigma restrictions would put on poor people who receive food stamps.

According to WABI, Maine’s health department has asked the U.S. Agriculture Department for a waiver that would allow it to ben soda and candy from the food-stamp program. It’s estimated that $13 million in food stamp benefits is spent on sugary foods and drinks in the state.