Liberal Democrats lost their minds recently when the Trump administration proposed a major change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, which was originally intended as a “safety net” that allowed low-income people to afford nutritious food.
According to NPR, the proposal put forward in the 2019 budget request would reduce the amount of cash benefits loaded onto most food stamp recipients’ Electronic Benefits Transfer cards by roughly half. That cash will be replaced by a “USDA Foods package” which would contain such items as “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables,” but not perishable items like fresh fruit or vegetables.
The administration argued that the change would be more cost-effective and save tens of billions of dollars over the years, but Democrats protested that it would remove “choice” from food stamp recipients and laughably claimed the program should remain as a “free market model” that allows recipients to spend their benefits however they see fit.
But it is indeed how they choose to spend the benefits provided them by taxpayers that has become an issue. This was revealed in a study commissioned by the Food and Nutrition Service — the agency within the USDA that runs SNAP — according to CNS News.
The study, released in November of 2016, combed through voluminous point-of-sale data covering the year of 2011 that had been provided by an unnamed “leading U.S. grocery retailer” which was described only as stores that “would be classified as grocery stores, supermarkets, and combination food and drug stories per USDA/FNS food retailer definitions.”
In comparing the purchases of both SNAP and non-SNAP households, it was discovered that the top “commodity” purchased by SNAP recipients was soft drinks, upon which they spent at least $357.7 million, or about 5.44 percent of all expenditures … not exactly a “nutritional supplement.”
USDA guidelines for what is eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits includes: breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; meats, fish and poultry; and dairy products, as well as seeds and plants that produce food.
In 2008, the eligibility guidelines were expanded by the Food and Nutrition Act to include “junk food” like soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers and ice cream, as well as “luxury” items such as seafood, steak and bakery cakes.
In other words, even though the program was intended to provide “supplemental nutrition” to low-income families, liberal policies (remember who controlled Congress in 2008, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid) expanded it to include non-nutritional foods — a problem the USDA food boxes of staple items would seemingly address, at least partially.
The study showed that soft drinks beat out fluid milk, the next most popular item on the SNAP list at $253.7 million, ground beef at $201 million, bagged snacks at $199.3 million and cheese at $186.4 million, with a total percentage of expenditures ranging from 3.85 to 2.83 percent, respectively.
By way of comparison, milk was at the top of the commodity list for non-SNAP households, followed by soft drinks and cheese. Ground beef and bagged snacks ranked as 6th and 5th on the list, respectively.
It is worth noting that much of the rest of the top 25 specific purchased “commodities” by SNAP recipients could be classified as “junk” food and not particularly nutritious, and neither fresh fruits nor vegetables were anywhere to be found on that list.
However, it must be pointed out that a separate list notating the aggregate categories of expenditures listed “vegetables” in third place and “fruits” in eighth, behind second place “sweetened beverages” — which would include soft drinks — and “meat/poultry/seafood” which topped the chart for both SNAP and non-SNAP alike.
Furthermore, the study itself stressed that, other than slight variations in the rankings and few outliers, much of the goods purchased by both SNAP and non-SNAP alike were remarkably similar.
CNS noted that in fiscal year 2011, more than 44.7 million people in more than 21 million households were enrolled in the food stamp program for a total cost to taxpayers of more than $71.8 billion in benefits.
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