October 7th, 2010
03:38 PM ET

NY officials: Take soda out of food stamp program

Take sugary drinks and soda out of items eligible for purchase through food stamps, New York officials said Thursday.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to exclude sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas and sports drinks from food stamp eligibility, because of their effects on obesity.  Under the New York proposal, city food stamp recipients would not be able to buy soda using food stamps for two years.

“This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment,” Bloomberg said in a press release.

The Big Apple has been the vanguard in many health initiatives – banning trans fats in restaurants, proposing the end of smoking in outdoor public areas and requiring calorie counts on the menu. The Chart: New York tries to ban outdoor smoking

The city also released this graphic that showed how neighborhoods that had the most food stamp recipients reported that 32 to 45 percent of the residents drank more than one sugar-sweetened beverage a day and  experienced higher obesity rates.  New York’s poorest households had 30 percent obesity compared with the wealthiest at 17 percent.  This trend also reflected in the rate of type 2 diabetes, which was higher in poor residents (14 percent) compared with the wealthiest at 7 percent.

“The use of Food Stamp benefits to support the purchase of sugar sweetened drinks not only contradicts the intent of this vital program, but it also subsidizes a serious public health epidemic,” said Paterson in a statement.

“There is clear evidence that low-income individuals have higher rates of obesity and are more at risk of becoming obese than other groups. The serious chronic illnesses related to obesity – diabetes, cancer and heart disease – take a toll on our family, friends and neighbors, but also carry a cost that we all bear, as nearly half of the $147 billion spent nationally on treatment per year is paid by Medicaid and Medicare.”

Obesity-related illness leads to  nearly $8 billion in medical costs annually for New York state residents, according to the press release.

The USDA runs the food stamp program, known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  New York authorities say they seek to align the food stamps with USDA’s rules for the national school lunch program and the Women, Infants and Children program which does not allow for the purchase of sugary drinks. WIC provides foods and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and mothers to children under the age of five.

Dr. Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University said  excluding soda from food stamps program would not unfairly target the poor.

"Using government funds to pay for things that so clearly contribute to ill health does not make sense, particularly when government agencies, including the USDA, are struggling to address the nation’s obesity problem.” Read his statement here.

soundoff (656 Responses)
  1. Jnat

    Whjy only the soda, what about ALL prepared foods, and the sheet cakes. I work at a grocey store, and what see these food stamp people buy is shamefull. Here's an idea for creating jobs! hire more social workers to keep tabs on these people that abuse the system. I know for a fact that some people sell their cards for cash. Boyfriends that work, and live in the house of the person that's on welfare. So their better off them me! It's a sin becaue they teaching their children to live the same way. I also think that they should be drug tested too. I had to be tested before I was hired, and they still do random testing.

    October 8, 2010 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Matthew Moulton

      It honestly ~should~ be a decision of the doctors. If your DOCTOR says you're obese and need to not be eating sweet, sugary crap or soda, then fine, restrictions on an INDIVIDUAL basis do make some logical sense, but to make senseless, arbitrary, sweeping decisions across the board that affect everybody and open up some ~very~ dangerous slippery slopes...yeah that's just really dumb.

      And the insurance companies are *WAY* more intelligent than the lot of you ignorant fools, and if you think they won't use stuff like this as a springboard to start putting arbitrary restrictions on medical insurance...guess again. They're ALREADY pushing for it in fact and stuff like this merely adds more fuel to their fire. Especially when it's the government that's doing it, that pretty much paves the road of them to do as they like, being able to point at Uncle Sam and scream, "HEY! YOU DID IT FIRST!"

      October 8, 2010 at 18:37 | Report abuse |
  2. Disabled, single, 44 yr old, no kids, on food stamps.

    I've worked since I was 14 yrs old. After finishing school, I worked two or three jobs most of the time so I could support myself. Ten yrs ago I was injured in an accident, as a reusult of the injuries I could not function at 100%, I still worked but could not hold down a job for any length of time. Five years ago I had to file for SS Disability because my injuries were so severe they were affecting my ability to support myself. It took 2 years to get approved for SS, I now receive $868 a month. That is my only source of income. I applied for food stamps just after my SS started. Up until the first of the year, I paid $515 a month for a 1 bdrm apt., elec. about $50, phone (land-line) $50 which includes internet access. I have basic cable $29 a month, personal items cost me about $100 (bath tissue, paper towels, soap, shampoo, cleaning supplies, laundry supplies, toothpaste, dish detergent, garbage bags, etc). I own a 1992 Honda that I have had for 14 yrs now. Even though I don't have a car payment, I do have to pay car insurance. There is also the money for my 5 prescriptions that I have to purchase each month .That leaves me with maybe $50 for the month for anything else I need. Notice I did not say want. I used to get $119 a month for food stamps. Without that, I would probably starve. I like to eat healthy, fresh fruits, veggies, lean meats, juices, etc. I'd love to shop at our weekly farmers market, I would absolutely love to go all organic. If I had a larger income, I could (and did) do all of that, however with the limited amount I get I often have to compromise on my food selections. The cheapest, lowest quality, least nutritious food are the least expensive. I cannot afford to buy the healty foods I like so I have to buy what I can afford, but I still try to keep to the healthiest of the affordable foods.

    I think people are getting off track with this new proposed limits on buying soda with food stamps. CNN's Sean Calebs did a fantastic story about food stamps in March of 2009 http:// www. cnn.com/2009/US/01/30/am.callebs.foodstamps.blog/index.html. He lived off of the amount of money one would get for food stamps in his state, actually, he lived off of the MAXIMUM amount of money someone on food stamps in his state gets which was $176 for the month. I think anyone who feels the need to chime in on this issue take a few minutes to read his story and see what it is actually like.

    I know food stamps are a supplement, but for some folks like me, it is all we have to spend on food. Recently I had to move from my fairly safe 1 bdrm apt. to a smaller apt in a not so safe area of town because of the yearly rent increase. I thought that would free up some money for me. Well, I now pay $350 a month for rent, the place is older and not so energy efficient so my electric bills have gone up to about $80 a month, but since it was so hot here in TN this summer, I did get a couple of over $100 bills because I had the air on most of the time. I kept it at 78 degrees, but it is a window unit and not so efficient. The cooler weather has finally arrived and I can have the windows open, so the elec, bill won't be so bad (I hope). Since I had to (by law) report any change in residence or income to the Dept of Human Services, they approve the food stamps, within 10 days of the change, I did. They recalculated and now I am entitled to receive $69 a month for food stamps. I challenge anyone out there to take $69 and find enought food to last you a month. Luckily, we have a very good Food Bank here in my city and I've started going there to pick up my 1 monthly box of food. It helps. I also had a small porch garden this summer, 2 tomato plants, some lettuce and herbs are all I have room for. I always cook at home, I might "eat out" once a month and that's because a friend is paying. The last movie I saw in a theater was "The Wedding Crashers" and that's because a friend payed. I don't buy new clothes, I go to re-sale or thrift shops and THAT is a splurge. I have to watch literally every penny that I spend. I now eat only 2 meals a day so the food will last.

    For most people I know, being on Food Stamps is not some "free extra money" at the end of the month, they are on them because they have to be. As far as what they buy, they do have limits. No cigs, alcohol or items other than food (no deli items either). I don't smoke, I am a few times a year drinker. I don't have any children (by choice because a:) I am not married and b:} I cannot afford to support them) but if I did, I would be hard pressed to deny my child a snack or soda if they wanted it. I wouldn't let them live off of if, but kids like that stuff and they see their friends enjoying it and why should they be punished because their parents are poor? Personally, I don't go out. Going out with my friends means spending money. When was the last time you left the house and didn't spend 1 dime? If not for something, then I have to think about what it will cost me in gas for my car. I do have some pride left and saying to my friends "I can't afford to go out with you for drinks, or to catch a flick or to dinner" over and over again got old, so now I just say no and most of them have stopped asking. Sure, they offer to pay, but come on, always having your hand out is humiliating. If you are not social, then you don't have a lot of friends. So not only are some people poor, but they become isolated as well. I am lucky to have a few good friends who know my situaton and truly understand. We talk a lot, they come over and we sit on the porch or go for a walk. That is the socializing and extra activities most people on a limited income are able to do.

    I think this is a case of who shouts the loudest gets heard and right now the people shouting the loudest are the people who feel like they need to tell someone else what to do. You never really know something until you walk in someone else's shoes. I used to walk in upper-middle class shoes, but fate dealt me another hand and now I am in poor shoes, yes, I'm poor but I am trying and if there is help out there, then I am going to take it. I worked a lot of years and now I can't. Don't think for a minute I wouldn't trade all these free food stamps, disability checks and monthly food boxs for the ability to earn my own living and once again have some money to live and enjoy myself again, right now I exist and am very thankful to be able to do that. But I have also learned that you don't need a fancy car, new clothes, vacations, a big house, the latest gadget to be happy. Yes, I am generally happy, but I have good days and bad days. On my good days I try to do volunteer work for some local non-profits (it's really the only socializing I get to do.) But on my bad days I am at home a lot, so I read or garden if I am able. I am thankful to have the SS income, I am thankful for the Food Stamps and I am thankful for the Food Bank, but that is ALL I have. I am thankful to be living in a country that even with my limited resources, I still have he freedom to choose. If I want to splurge and pick up a litre of Diet Cherry Pepsi at the grocery store, it should be my right to do so, plus, it's on sale for $1 and 2 quarts of orange juice is almost tripple that......so yes, I do end up purchasing more less expensive, less quality things but I know what I have to spend and try to make it last. I don't don't have much, but I help others when I can and often it sickens me to see how some people waste their money (do you really need the latest I-phone or techno gadget, plasma tv's in every room of the house, new cars every year (they all work the same, gas pedal on the right, break on the left and the big round thing in the middle is for steering) and shopping, shopping, shopping) but you don't hear me complaining about it do you, or trying to limit their choices? This is America, the land of the free, however those living below poverty level are already limited on so many things, let's not take away their freedom to choose. I think there are more important issues that our elected officials should be worrying about than what food I buy with my $69 in food stamps.

    If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading. I just wanted to chime in my 2 cents like the rest... at least I can afford to do that still!

    And much thanks to CNN's Sean Callebs for his report on Food Stamps. http:// www. cnn.com/2009/US/01/30/am.callebs.foodstamps.blog/index.html

    October 8, 2010 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      First off... I sympathize with your situation. Since you have a car, I presume you're able-bodied enough to drive. What sort of ailment are you suffering from that prevents you from doing any work, but you're still capable of driving a car? Have you looked into doing work out of your home, perhaps medical transcription? There are many many options for at home work. Is there a public transit (bus) system where you live?

      As tough as your situation must be for you personally, I still don't feel like you have any "right" to use government assistance funds on "soda". Unless there is some sort of incredibly rare disorder that can benefit from an incredibly sugary drink, there isn't anybody on this planet that has anything even remotely close to a "need" for soda. I cut soda out of my diet maybe 5-10 years ago. The only time I drink anything other than tap water is maybe once a month when I visit my mother who frequently has orange, or other types of fruit juices at her house. Soda is not a right, it's a luxury, and luxuries should not be paid for with food stamps.

      October 9, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse |
  3. Matthew Moulton

    What's with all these idiots whining on about "luxuries"? I mean, if you really want to go by their stupidity, the government should just shell out some hardtack and swill to everyone and call it good.

    Pop is not a "luxury" item, not unless you're just extremely pathetic without any semblance at all of what's really worthwhile and unique.

    Pop is dirt freakin cheap, one of the cheapest things you can buy in the store, hell most places practically just give it away as a method of getting customers in the door. Pop also has *WAY* less sugar and calories than...well, let's face it, nearly EVERY OTHER PRODUCT you can find! And if you want to talk about diet sodas, well shit, that's just about one of the healthiest things you can drink!

    The other side of the coin is that these so called "luxeries" or, essentially just CHOICES are important because everyone has different tastes and different things that help them get along in life. I mean nearly every other person in the US wakes up and has a morning cup of coffee, by "Bob's" definition up there, that's a "luxury", and yet, if you suddenly took away everyone's morning cup of coffee...well holy cripe I wouldn't want to see ~that~ days productivity report!

    Food is very important to human beings, not simply for survival, but also as a means of stimulating our senses, which in turn benefits our creativity, energy, drive, well being, mental stability, etc, etc, etc. If you suddenly start arbitrarily removing things based on absolutely no feasible or coherent reasoning then you've obviously got some kind of an ulterior agenda going on. There really isn't any gray area here. It's either choices and healthy minds...or it's hardtack and swill coupled with stunted brain activity, take your pick.

    October 10, 2010 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      I made the same mistake of trying to dismiss the idea of soda being a "luxury" item earlier in this topic. By definition it is a luxury. See entry #2 below.

      luxury (ˈlʌkʃərɪ) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

      — n , pl -ries
      1. indulgence in and enjoyment of rich, comfortable, and sumptuous living
      2. ( sometimes plural ) something that is considered an indulgence rather than a necessity

      You started out reasonably enough with your last paragraph, then you degenerated into your recurring pattern of hyperbole. Attempting to have a rational discussion with you about this topic is not unlike being subjected to someone raking their nails across a chalkboard.

      October 10, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse |
  4. Aries

    How About, taking away all sugary sweets. Make it more like the wic program and limit their food help just like the WIC does. This will make some of the welfare people actually go out and find jobs or go back to school to get an education since im sure they'll even get financial aid for being low income. No excuses people! If you are going to have foodstamps, give back by making something of your life and setting a good example for your kids. You can even take classes from home now, computers are given to you due to all the help there is. No excuses, don't complain about having cokes taken away and get an education. It be nice to know that the majority were actually going to school to get out of the situation instead of just living off the government help and taking advantage. Go out there and get motivated to go back to school, it's never too late.

    October 10, 2010 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Not Abusing the system

    I just recently had to get Food Stamps to support my family. I work everyday and was not getting any child support for my 3 children. We were barely able to eat and for months, only my children ate dinner and it would be something that I could buy and make for 10 dollars a week- which was all I could spare after paying $350 a week for daycare for my children this summer. My pay check was only $616 every two weeks. Criticize all you want about people that receive food stamps. I needed help, and I went along time before I went and asked for help. I do not buy chips, or soda or high end meats or expensive seafood with it. Now, I do buy what some would consider pre processed foods, but I don't think that buying a package of hamburger helper is a bad thing, high in sodium but that is it. I buy fresh veggies and fruits and whole grain cereals and breads. I don't buy candy. I still feel funny about about going to the store and buying groceries, but I also need to feed my family. Take off what ever you don't want us to buy with it. The system is broken, but remember, not everyone is abusing the system. When you purchase something that is not covered, it comes up as a separate charge. My question to you is would you let your children starve or would you do what was best and ask for help. You people that are criticizing women and men that are in our shoes should perhaps take a walk in them. It was not an easy decision for me to make and I cried the whole time I was in the office signing up. I don't need someone criticizing me and making me feel as if I was a bad person, just because I needed help.

    October 10, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. KJ

    pass a drug test to collect your free sugar water/preservative laced "food"... you can have a nicer car than me and get your nails and hair did but you can't get your own soda? ef you, i feel like the fool working....

    October 14, 2010 at 12:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Lacy

    I think it would be beneficial to people for the food stamp program to eliminate soda and candy from the eligible food 'list'. However, if other health requirements begin to spring up the government is then going to have to take into account that the measly amount allotted for food under the food stamp program will need to be increased once you take into account the significant cost differences of healthy alternatives. Even with my knowledge of nutrition, it is hard for me to swallow the fact that the government should have too much say in what people eat. People in need of food stamps need to eat and feed their children. Many of you don't seem to grasp the understanding of food stamp eligibility requirements. The demographic that most utilizes the program is a white woman with about 2 children. Most of them are transitioning in between jobs or are getting on their feet after marriage. A lot of assumptions going on here... unvalidated.

    October 17, 2010 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. we need to get smart about food

    I think this is a valient effort by the city of New York to combat rising obesity rates and promote healthy food choices. Healthy children breed healthy adults, but these good habits must be formed early on as the trend shows unhealthy children breed even unhealthier adults.

    Food stams, as some of you pointed out, are indeed supplemental programs, intended to provide nouishing food to families who have difficulty providing. There are many factors that contribute to this, poverty being the overt cause, and no one shoule be blamed or condemned if they cannot provide for themselves or their family. These are tough times and every circumstance is different.

    That being said, I think it important to remember the objective of such programs and that is to provide NOURISHING food to those who cannot afford it. It is not for the sodas, snacks foods, and fast-foods but unfortunately that is what many of these stamps are used for. Not only are they unhealthy but they are often the more expensive alternative to healthy food. Rather than puchasing, say, cans of soup that are inexpensive, nutritious and satisfying (and can feed more than one person, averaging out to about $1 per meal per person), people opt for quick meals that taste good from fast food restaurants that are often wasteful of supplemental money and come with a side of serious health concerns.

    Efforts by those in charge to pull sugar drinks are commended, but it needs to go much further than that to make real changes folks.

    November 3, 2010 at 14:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. ariel

    We limit the types of food WIC recipients receive. I believe that there should be some limitations on the types of foods that welfare recipients receive also. Some individuals do not understand healthy diet, the food pyramid, and the reason why we should not eat junk food and drink sodas. I believe welfare should not use government money for soda/pop. I believe it should not pay for snack items. I'm not saying meals that are unhealthy should be restricted just yet, just snacks. Then evaluate if this helps the welfare recipients.

    November 15, 2010 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Sue Thomas

    Uh-shpar-tah-may....is REAL poison also! Who is to say ?
    The tip of an ugly iceberg. Even nutritionists have so many differing
    opinions. Roll back this rule before things get badly out of control!

    November 20, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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