Fighting Sugar, the Right Way

Look at the bills scored so far on the Foundation’s 2017 Freedom Index, and it’s easy to get depressed.

Tax hikes, new regulations, higher minimum wages, abandonment of the Electoral College, more revenue devoted to “early childhood education” — it’s a grisly scene. (Elections have consequences.)

But one of the few bills that lands on the positive side is SB 5. Sponsored by Roswell’s Cliff Pirtle, the legislation promotes fiscal and individual responsibility, and earlier this month, the justification for the bill received a boost from an unlikely source.

Currently, beneficiaries of food stamps — more precisely, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — can use the vouchers to buy a wide range of groceries. Pirtle’s bill applies the restrictions placed on purchases under the Women, Infants, and Children program to food stamps. Baby formula, milk, peanut butter, fish, cheese, fruit /vegetable juices, and bread would be permitted, and SB 5 includes meat as well.

A cruel reform? Not according to a report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Researchers, examining transactions at a “leading grocery retailer,”  found that SNAP households spent 5.44 percent of their expenditures on soft drinks. That was more than milk (3.85 percent), fresh chicken (1.85 percent) water (1.17 percent), and potatoes (0.74 percent). Food-stamp “families” spent substantially more on soda than non-SNAP households, which held their liquid-candy bill down to 4.01 percent.

Source: “Foods Typically Purchased by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Households,” Nutrition Assistance Program Report, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support, U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 2016

Marion Nestle, a well-known (and liberal) professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, told The New York Times that the finding is “pretty shocking,” and amounts to “a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry.”

Agreed. That’s why reasonable (and public-health-promoting) restrictions on welfare are so important. Keep an eye on SB 5. It will indicate whether lawmakers in Santa Fe are serious about fiscal responsibility and fighting the obesity epidemic.

Update: “Five Democratic state senators banded together Tuesday to block a Republican bill aimed at prohibiting people on food stamps from buying soda, candy and other junk foods.”