September 7, 2012
Who's getting fat off food stamps?
A record number of Americans—46.7 million, or nearly 1 in 7--now uses the food stamp program, according to the Department of Agriculture. The annual cost of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food stamp program is officially known) hit $72 billion last year, up from $30 billion four years earlier.
SNAP's swelling size and cost have earned it fresh scrutiny from critics, who say SNAP is making two different constituencies fat—big corporations and the poor—the first, figuratively; the second, literally.
Many health advocates, concerned by Americans' increasing obesity, argue that food stamp purchases should be disallowed for items high in salt or fat or sugar—candy, say, or fatty meats, potato chips and soda. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, who has a particular antipathy to sweet drinks, has urged the Department of Agriculture to exclude sodas from food stamp eligibility.
Makers of these maligned products, meantime, have lobbied Congress and state governments to prevent their products' exclusion from SNAP eligibility, arguing that consumers ought to be free in the grocery store to buy pretty much whatever they want. The National Confectioners Association, for example, argues on its website that excluding candy from SNAP would prevent parents from enjoying the freedom to give children "an occasional treat" on "Halloween, Hannukah, [or] Easter."
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