The Sugar Plum Fairy has a friend in Washington, D.C.
Yes, the same bureaucratic do-gooders that hammer school lunch programs for having too much “junk food”, assail Joe Average for buying Big Gulps, and want to tax anything with a trace of sugar in it not served at a Five Star Restaurant to Kingdom Come loves the Sugar Plum Fairy.
The United States Department of Agriculture — the same fun loving people putting the screws to schools to eradicate campuses of soda machines and bake sales involving anything with sugar — are standing up for the Sugar Plum Fairy.
If that sounds a bit unbelievable just ask the good folks in Maine. They are seeking a waiver from the USDA’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, the fancy moniker given good old fashioned food stamps.
Maine doesn’t think it is wise that tax dollars being spent to help people not go hungry through a program that contains the words “nutritional assistance” in the name should be allowed to be used by recipients to buy candy, cookies, ice cream, and soda.
An official USDA spokeswoman responding to inquiries about Maine’s proposal noted “like all requests to test changes in SNAP, we will review this carefully.” Freely translated: Fat chance.
The USDA has in the past slammed the door on similar requests from Minnesota, New York City, and Mississippi to name a few jurisdictions.
The American Beverage Association — in support of soda guzzling SNAP recipients — issued a statement saying “we think families should be free to choose what they put in their grocery carts.” I have no problem with that if they were the ones paying for what they put into their grocery carts.
Not only are taxpayers footing the bill but if taxpayers put a six-pack of Pepsi or Coca-Cola in their carts they’d have to pay applicable sales tax. But buy a 12-pack of Mountain Dew with its healthy heaping of sugar and caffeine using a SNAP card and retailers are prohibited by law from charging sales tax. That goes for candy and any other items you can buy with SNAP funds that would usually have a mandatory sales tax.
You think that is unbelievable, check out the USDA guidelines on seasonal gift items. You can use SNAP benefits to buy a holiday gift basket with toys as long as the candy and other food stuff “clearly” accounts for more than 50 percent of the purchase price.
Can anyone hear the sound of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace rolling over in their graves?
Critics of the Maine proposal argue that SNAP recipients would simply use their own cash to stock up on soda and candy should the rules change and prohibit the use of what are essentially food stamps to make the sugary purchases.
That begs a couple of questions. If they are in such a tight financial situation that they can still afford to buy “empty calorie soda and food” as people in Washington D.C., like to label candy and soda do they really need help? What about getting back to basics to survive? And how is it a wise nutritional decision when you have essentially begged taxpayers via the USDA to keep you from going hungry?
It may sound crass but whatever happened to the concept of beggars can’t by choosers? Not trying to poke holes in anyone’s self-esteem but asking for assistance to put food on your table isn’t exactly working to earn it.
And we’re not talking about doling out a few dollars here and there. In 2014, SNAP distributed benefits valued at $70 billion assisting 46.7 million people. That’s the equivalent of $218.75 for every American.
Since corporations such as PG&E go for years without paying taxes on billions in profits and firms like Apple can funnel money into foreign operations to slash tax liability, the brunt of the SNAP program falls squarely on the backs of the Middle Class and much of the Working Class that is above the poverty level.
They are the same folks that pay taxes on the free soda and candy that a SNAP recipient gets tax free.
No one wants to see anyone going hungry. But at the same time no one wants to see money forcibly taken out of their pockets for the purpose of “nutrition assistance” and see it squandered on unhealthy, empty calorie items.
People should be free to guzzle all the soda and devour all the candy they can afford to pay for themselves.
That said, until the federal government bans the use of SNAP benefits for empty calorie items such as soda and candy it would be nice if the highest profile faces of the Administration stop lecturing us about getting fat and eating unhealthy.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.