Defending SNAP

Maine’s attempt to ban soda and candy from food stamps is foiled by USDA

By 
Kristina Peters, Associate Editor, CSP

In January, the Trump administration denied a request from Maine that would have restricted soda and candy purchases under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It’s a sign that Trump’s Department of Agriculture may prove no more receptive to so-called “junk-food bans” than previous administrations, The Washington Post said.

This was Maine’s second attempt in two years to ban food-stamp recipients from using their benefits for candy or sugar-sweetened beverages. The first attempt, in November 2015, was blocked by the Obama administration. Such foods have no nutritional value and contribute to high rates of obesity, the state has argued.

“The time has come to stand up to Big Sugar and ensure our federal dollars are supporting healthy food choices for our neediest people,” Maine Gov. Paul LePage said during a radio address.

But in a letter to Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) refused the request, citing its own concerns, according to the Portland Press Herald. Among them: additional administrative costs for retailers, difficulties deciding on the exclusion of particular foods and the lack of evidence that such restrictions yield “meaningful health outcomes.”

“When considering waiver requests, USDA focuses on moving people into self-sufficient lives, protecting the integrity of the program and improving customer service,” the agency said in a statement. “We don’t want to be in the business of picking winners and losers among food products in the marketplace, or in passing judgment about the relative benefits of individual food products.”