Monday, November 21, 2016

A student wants restrictions on what SNAP can purchase

A letter to a person in government written by a student:

I would like to discuss an issue with you regarding social welfare and the use of food stamps. Although I strongly believe they are doing more good than harm, I think there are some improvements that need to be done. 
Food stamps are supposed to help out those families in need with low incomes to be able to provide food for their families. They are sent an x amount of money each month to be able to go to the grocery store and purchase food. Although I know that food stamps cannot be used to purchase alcohol or tobacco, there should be more restrictions on them. I am sick and tired of standing behind families and watching them buy bags of chips and sodas with their food stamps. I also don’t like seeing families purchasing high dollar steaks and seafood. Food stamps main purpose is to help those families in need. I am a hard worker, as well as my parents, and it’s still a struggle to be buying high dollar meals from the grocery store. I feel that food stamps should be more along the lines of WIC. WIC allows mothers to buy their infants the products they need to survive but doesn’t allow them to buy any baby food they prefer. Therefore with food stamps, families should only be able to buy fruits and vegetables or potatoes and hamburger. 

Overall I know food stamps are a necessity to many families and they are using them as they should, but there are also all of those families out there taking advantage of the free money and using their money to purchase alcohol and tobacco. It just doesn’t seem fair. 

There are really two issues here.  In the first place, there is a real problem when a government program that should promote nutritional health may be promoting obesity and poor health.  That is, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) should reduce malnutrition and hunger, and help people get nutritious food that will keep them healthy and strong.  But, if people are free to use this program to buy products that are injurious to health, some of them may choose to buy too much of these unwholesome things, and not enough of the nutritious food they ought to buy.  In the second place, people may be upset if people using SNAP purchase expensive foods that most people cannot afford to regularly consume.  Assuming the SNAP recipients who are purchasing luxury foods are honestly receiving SNAP, their luxury purchasing suggests they have poor budgeting skills and probably run out of SNAP money and go hungry in the final days of each benefit period.  But, the remedy is also fraught with problems.  Restricting what people can purchase with SNAP is a matter of diminishing the liberty of the poor, and it is a paternalistic approach to managing and controlling the poor.  This may not be a problem for everyone, but some people are concerned about this.  There will also be controversy as any bureaucrat or committee determines which products are luxurious or unwholesome.  Are all cookies to be banned, or should we allow some sorts of more nutritious cookies?  What is a luxury food?  Salmon often costs $9 or $10 per pound, and berries and nuts can also cost that much.  But, fatty fish such as salmon is an important part of a nutritious diet (if you happen to eat meat), and nuts and berries are an important part of a wholesome diet (especially if one refrains from eating much meat).  Do we simply insist that SNAP benefits can only be used to purchase unprocessed foods, or minimally processed foods?  Where is the dividing line between foods that are "too processed" and foods that are okay?  Imagine the complexity of the regulations! Imagine the turmoil at the check-out lane as grocery store employees try to determine whether a specific type of cheese is permitted or is considered "luxury" and banned.

There are studies of what people actually purchase with SNAP benefits, and you might have referred to these to support your proposal to restrict how SNAP benefits should be used.
Stores Accepting Food Stamps Face Stricter Rules (Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2016)

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