NASHVILLE, Jan. 17, 2017– Last week I introduced a Bill, (HB43) for the Tennessee State Legislature to consider this session that, if enacted, would have limited the “junk food” or non-nutritional caloric foods that could be purchased with what we call SNAP (or food stamp) benefits on an EBT card. Just this past week the USDA published a detailed report showing that the number one item being bought with SNAP benefits are soft drinks.
The report shows that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which account for 5% of the dollars they spend on food. The category of ‘sweetened beverages’ which includes sugar-added juices, energy drinks and sweetened teas, accounted for almost 10% of the dollars spent on food.
“In this sense, SNAP is a multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidy of the soda industry,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.
Since filing HB43 last week, I have done some research and found out that the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines eligible food as:
“any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households. The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits: alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items”
The Act goes on to say “Since the current definition of food is a specific part of the Act, any change to this definition would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome.”
Essentially, then, I found out that it would literally take an “act of congress” to make any changes to the SNAP program. Many states over the years have asked for a waiver to be able to make changes to the program and not one has ever been granted. That being the case, I have decided not to run the legislation at this time. There is a new administration coming in Washington on Friday and there is the real possibility that state’s rights will be recognized to run their own states, their own programs, defend their own Constitutions and spend their money without hundreds of strings attached from the federal government. I will continue to fight for the 10th Amendment and our state’s sovereignty. It is past time for states to make their case and defend their rights.
In the meantime, HB 43 has generated much discussion across the state and even into other states as well. I, personally, hope we would all make good choices and encourage each other to do so. If and when we don’t, it becomes very costly for our health, our health care and the health care of our families. However, I also don’t believe that expanding bureaucracy ever makes anything better. I received many suggestions that may be viable approaches to encouraging people to make better choices and I appreciate everyone who sent well intentioned, well thought-out, rational suggestions and so many who shared your stories. Since I am serving on the Health Committee this year, I will have a great opportunity to introduce some of those ideas. I am looking forward to it.
There is also another benefit in Tennessee which is added to an EBT card called TANF. This is a cash benefit on the average of $150 per family who is eligible. One of the requirements to be on TANF is that the person must be working or in some type of a state work program. I worked with the Department of Labor two years ago to increase the number of counties in Tennessee that require TANF recipients to be working and every year we are adding new counties as the opportunities for jobs increase. One of the positive outcomes of this work requirement, as well as the fact that Tennessee is constantly adding better paying jobs, is that the number of those in the TANF program has gone down significantly since 2011. In 2011, we had 63,000 families receiving TANF benefits. As of last week, we had 28,000. As you can see, by adding jobs and requiring the work component, we really have been helping families to move forward!