In the ongoing battle to reorganize a federal welfare program, the state of Texas is considering a bill that would prohibit people on the taxpayer-funded Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Plan (SNAP) from purchasing junk food, including caffeinated beverages, candy, cookies, and some types of salty snacks.
State Representative Briscoe Cain (R-Baytown) is the man behind HB 4364 – the latest attempt to force benefit recipients to make healthier food choices.
Mr. Cain made his intentions clear:
“At-risk Texans and families who utilize the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are often the most susceptible to diabetes and the serious complications associated with it. HB 4364 seeks to curb the spread of diabetes and other health complications among Texans in at-risk populations by eliminating sugary drinks and snacks from the state’s nutrition assistance program.”
The bill is specific in outlining the types of consumables Cain believes are detrimental to the health of his fellow Texans. For example, any beverage that “contains 65 milligrams of caffeine per eight fluid ounces, a carbonated beverage, a sweetened beverage,” and what may be considered sacrilege in the Lone Star state, “potato or corn chips.” How will folks scoop up salsa, pico de gallo, and guacamole without corn chips?
There is good news for Texans currently depending on food stamps – coffee and naturally sweetened juice drinks are exempt from the proposed law.
It sounds like a solid, well researched plan — but will it pass through both chambers and land on Governor Greg Abbot’s desk for signature?
A similar proposal was narrowly rejected by the Arkansas state House of Representatives in a 31-29 vote earlier in the year. It was the second attempt in as many years and made it to the Senate, where it stalled and was left dead on the chamber floor.
The United States Department of Agriculture recently released a report on what recipients spend their monthly benefits on, and it paints an unhealthy picture with point of sale tallies showing 23 cents of every food-stamp dollar spent on processed food – terrible nutrition. Leading the junk food pack was the purchase of sugary, carbonated beverages, with the only other category in which more money was spent being “meat, poultry, and seafood.”
But the study also compared the purchasing habits of non-SNAP beneficiaries and found that most Americans are steering into the skid of obesity, heart problems, diabetes, and ongoing health crisis – with our without food stamps.
SNAP’s Love Affair with Diabetes and Obesity
Cindy Leung, a nutrition researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, is warning of the alarming connections between SNAP recipients and obesity. She found that “SNAP participants had double the odds of obesity compared to eligible non-participants.”
Leung also concludes that “The diets of low-income children are far from meeting national dietary recommendations. Policy changes should be considered to restructure SNAP to improve children’s health.”
Mr. Cain knows nearly 3 million people have diabetes in Texas and type 2 diabetes is directly linked to poor nutritional choices and obesity. The cost to treat Texans with the disease is estimated at $23.7 billion every year as serious complications like heart disease, stroke, amputation, end-stage kidney disease, and blindness are part and parcel with Diabetes progression.
It is the Texas legislator’s goal to rein in expenditures through SNAP to healthier, nutritionally balanced choices. If the bill does get the nod from Texas lawmakers, it still must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – and you can bet on salty snack and soda pop lobbyists lurking around in the Swamp are going to pull out all the stops to keep that from happening.
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