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September 11, 2013 12:53 PM Conservatives Go All Nanny-State-y On Food Stamps

By Ed Kilgore

Speaking of Mike Bloomberg, nothing gets a good old-fashioned conservative going quite like being told what he or she can eat, drink, smoke, or say (at least when it comes to racist jokes). But those are the norms for “makers,” not “takers,” it seems, according to this report from The Hill’s Peter Kasperowicz:

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday proposed legislation that would require people using federal food stamps to buy only healthy food.

The Healthy Food Choices Act, H.R. 3073, reflects a long-standing criticism that the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows people to buy billions of dollars worth of junk food.
A 2012 study found that food stamps enable about $2 billion worth of junk food purchases each year, and that more than half of all SNAP benefits are used to buy sugary drinks.
Efforts to curb these purchases have been opposed by anti-hunger groups. But Roe said some states are already exploring ways to curb junk food purchases through the SNAP program, and argued that the federal government needs to take steps as well….
Under Roe’s bill, food purchased under SNAP would have to meet the same guidelines that food purchased under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program already have to meet. The WIC guidelines are strict, and are made up of several different standards for products like breakfast cereal, milk, vegetables, peanut butter and other foods.

I haven’t read Roe’s bill, and don’t know if it does anything to make these “healthy food choices” more available, with, for example, expanded incentives for community food banks and produce markets. But for all the sugary talk from Roe, I suspect the support base for this bill is primarily punitive. Maybe it’s a sign of gradual progress that conservatives are fretting about subsidizing Cheetos rather than telling tall tales about food stamp recipients using their grocery store change to buy hootch like the Gipper used to do. It would be nice if it evolves further into a genuine interest in the health of working poor folks—you know, like those who would most benefit from eligibility for Medicaid.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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