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Louisville Mayor wants to ban use of food stamps to purchase soft drinks

The pause that refreshes...
The pause that refreshes...
McAdam/PhotoShop

Louisville's Democrat Mayor, Greg Fischer, has evidently jumped on the Bloomberg Nanny-State Bandwagon, and joined with New York's balmy Mayor--and the mayors of seventeen other lucky towns--in a hare-brained scheme to outlaw the use of federal food stamps for the purchase of soft drinks.

(Usage note: Here in Louisville, we call them "soft drinks." In most of the rest of the country, the sparkling sweet drinks are called "sodas." In Atlanta, of course, all such beverages are known simply as "Cokes.")

Hizhonor Michael Bloomberg, the gazillionaire mayor of the Big Apple, is a source of deep respect--or rollicking amusement, depending upon one's point of view--for his ongoing campaigns to save New Yorkers from the perils of salt shakers in restaurants and Big Gulp sodas. Currently, he is trying to encourage denizens of the Naked City to fork over five bucks an hour to ride little blue bicycles to work; in a town where cab drivers routinely demonstrate driving skills roughly akin to Han Solo, at the wheel of the Millennium Falcon.

In a news article that has gone absolutely viral today, Jeffifer Peltz of the Associated Press reports that Mayor Bloomberg sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program, with copies to Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, saying that it's "time to test and evaluate approaches limiting" the use of the subsidies for sugar-laden beverages, in the interest of fighting obesity and related diseases. "We need to find ways to strengthen the program and promote good nutrition while limiting the use of these resources for items with no nutritional value, like sugary drinks, that are actually harming the health of participants," suggested Mayor Bloomberg.

The letter was co-signed by our own zany Mayor Greg Fischer; and also sports signatures from the mayors of Baltimore, Boston, Madison, Wis., Minneapolis, Newark, N.J., Oakland, Calif., Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Providence, R.I., Salt Lake City, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Seattle.

With almost 50 million Americans using food stamps ("SNAP," for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the federal program already prohibits the expenditure of food stamps (a debit card, actually) for purchasing alcohol, cigarettes, hot food and other items, such as soap, toilet paper, and vitamins.

This is not the first time Mayor Bloomberg has tried to rally support for his idea of banning the use of food stamps to purchase soft drinks. Back in the summer of 2011, he petitioned the U.S.D.A. to prohibit such purchases.

In response, Jessica Shahin, an associate administrator in the Agriculture Department, wrote back to Bloomberg that the waiver the city sought was being denied because of the logistical difficulty of sorting out which beverages could or could not be purchased with food stamps and because it would be hard to gauge how effective the step was in reducing obesity.

The New York Times reported at the time that Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement that the department “has a longstanding tradition of supporting and promoting incentive-based solutions that are better-suited for the working families, elderly and other low-income individuals” who rely on food stamps than restrictions are. “We are confident that we can solve the problem of obesity and promote good nutrition and health for all Americans and stand ready to work with New York City to achieve these goals.”

The Times also quoted Joel Berg, the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, who cheered the federal government for “deciding not to micromanage” the lives of poor people. “The whole attempt was misguided and unworkable,” Mr. Berg said. “This proposal was based on the false assumption that poor people were somehow ignorant or culturally deficient.”

Earlier, in 2004, the U.S.D.A. rejected a similar proposal by Minnesota officials to stop food stamp recipients from buying "junk food," saying that such a rule would “perpetuate the myth” that food stamp users made poor shopping decisions.

Some may well be surprised to learn that Louisville's enlightened mayor is now advocating treating poor people like children. Others, are simply disappointed.

Learn more: Food Stamps Soda Ban: The Wrong Way to Fight Obesity

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