Why soft drinks and food stamps don’t mix

As I stood in the checkout line at my local supermarket the other day, mentally complaining about the continually rising prices of food, I noticed a couple ahead of me piling up cigarettes and beer on the conveyor belt. It caught my attention because they had been paying for their groceries with food stamps supported by your tax dollars and mine. That left them plenty of cash for the beer and smokes.

Ah, the cradle-to-grave welfare system. Why use your money for the basics of life when someone else’s money will get them for you? In effect, you are buying their drinks and smokes.

There are, of course, some people who can’t exist without assistance, but I see so many examples of people simply milking the system — put bluntly, stealing money from my pocketbook — I have less and less sympathy all the time.

Just this week, the partial collapse of an old brick residential building locally forced tenants of an apartment to find accommodations elsewhere. I felt bad for them at first. Then it was revealed that the building was Section 8 housing in which a big chunk of the rent is paid by, guess who?, you and me through our taxes.

On the surface that’s alright because some people need such assistance. But, only family members are allowed to reside in each unit and their total income must be below a certain level to qualify. It turns out one of the occupants was the boyfriend of the mother of the family, not a legal family member. Plainly put, this lout and loutess were jobbing the system to get cut-rate rent for her and rent-free housing for him while other members of the community whose taxes are supporting them are worrying about making their own rent or mortgage payments.

These are far from isolated cases. When they keep popping up generation after generation, I root for some tighter oversight of welfare programs so the truly needy are aided and the truly cheating are exposed. Thus, I was thrilled when I recently heard Mayor Michael Bloomberg was petitioning the federal government to allow New York City to prohibit food stamp recipients from using the handouts to purchase soft drinks. A small step, but better than no step, unless you’re among the soft drink makers/distributors/sellers and their cohort (snack food manufacturers, for one) already whining about the proposal.

Why is this a positive step for society at large? Besides the obesity problem, to which sugary drinks contribute mightily, take a look at the numbers.

There are 1,700,000 New Yorkers getting food stamps. That is roughly equal to the combined entire populations of Vermont, Wyoming and Washington, DC. If each food stamp recipient bought just 1½ soft drinks daily, that would come to about $2,500,000 a day, or $76,500,000 a month of your money being spent. That last figure exceeds the annual gross state product of each of 13 states: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. Perhaps you’re beginning to get an idea of the enormity of the topic.

By the way, if you think my figure of 1½ soft drinks a day to make my case is too high, consider that all available data puts the average American’s soft drink consumption at 3 quarts per week. We’re the largest soft drink consuming nation in the world. And you and I are buying the sodas for a lot of those people.


About Bill Dowd

Webmaster/social media coordinator for the Southern Rensselaer County NY Rotary Club.

Posted on June 11, 2011, in Business, Society. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with everything you say. I’ve been on public assistance before when times were extremely tough, but I got off of it the second I was able, and I detest people who abuse a system that is there for those who truly NEED it, not for those who want a free ride.

    There is no reason why soda should be covered by food stamps. I say this as a faithful Pepsi drinker, which practically runs through my blood. Obesity is bad enough in this country, and given the fact that many people who are on food stamps are also on medicaid, it further contributes to an overspent and over-abused system.

    That being said, I would love to know why the hell WIC will no longer allow people to buy whole milk for their toddlers.

  2. I disagree, bloomberg wants to have a soda tax, and him and his health commissioner have a nanny state attitude in new york city such as banning smokes, trans fats, etc, whether or not you support that is one thing but that is a general ban.

    Singling out soda for obesity is wrong, does Bill propose banning white bread, white potatoes, pizza, nachos,etc?

    Why ban chips, when one can buy the cheese and melt it with corn, or pizza, bloomberg also will not ban chocolate milkshakes, or sugar laden fruit juices, want a mango shake , that is fine. Gatorade will be banned too, one can argue that soda as a complete diet does not have anything else such as vitamins, but white bread, corn, and many other foods have little value as well.

    Bill also fails to mention that food stamps are going towards athletes and various other folks hurt in the downturn, you could try limiting food stamps to nutritional value but unlike wic, who is to judge a construction worker vs. a lawyer at the office who may or may not jog or work out, I know athletes tend to eat high-fatty, high-carb, foods but its okay because its burned up. Ban ice tea or iced tea mix? One can buy a seltzer and the syrup.

    This is just attempt, will need to more trafficking, and do nothing to solve the obesity crises.

    Ever reads men’s health about the worst foods in america, its not soda or what the media portrays but fatty foods in fast food restaurants or “healthy” yogurts ,aka stonyfield chocolate yogurt, or “healthy choice” or chinese salty food, how about campbell’s soup?

    Cakes and cookies are just flour and dough too, right now we have the owner of kfc proposing allowing food stamps in places , just as a ban on fast food restaurants won’t work, how would you ban fast food, would the cashier check to see if there is hidden butter than you added in?

    Its true the beverage industry is disengenious, such as coca-cola’s vitamin water, but that begs the question, since vitamin water does have nutritional valuefortified, would a whole wheat doughtnut be banned or then fortified soda vs a mango or chocolate milkshake.

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