New York City uses Recovery Act funds to poll residents on soda tax

Amanda Carey Contributor
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While the Big Apple is busy using Recovery Act money to urge its citizens to drink less soda and eat less salt, it is also using stimulus funds to survey New Yorkers on the possibility of a soda tax.

When reached by The Daily Caller, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health confirmed the ongoing survey and the use of their $31.1 million in Recovery Act grants to fund it. The survey is in conjunction with a city-wide anti-obesity campaign, also funded with Recovery Act money through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program.

“The survey covers a wide range of topics including breastfeeding, water, and consumption of sugar sweetened beverages,” said the spokesperson.  “The Health Department uses surveys such as these to regulate and assess its ongoing efforts.”

The spokesperson, however, did not specify what, exactly, the survey asked regarding a soda tax.

For now, the ongoing survey is limited to New York City, despite claims of previous reports. When asked about the survey and the possibility of a soda tax for all of New York , Diane Mathis, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health, told TheDC the department “is not, and has not, in 2011 conducted a survey in which recipients are asked their opinion of a tax on sugary beverages.”

Mathis did say there was a New York City survey that “included a question on a tax,” but emphatically denied the possibility of a future statewide tax.

But while the state of New York may not be using stimulus funds to poll state residents on a soda tax, the state government has received stimulus money for anti-obesity efforts. In February 2010, as part of the Recovery Act’s Prevention and Wellness Initiative, New York received $3 million to finance a requirement for restaurants to post calorie counts on menus, promote the implementation of the state’s ban on trans fats, and reduce consumption of sugary drinks.

Despite the millions of taxpayer dollars being funneled to New York to combat obesity and make soda a distant memory, there is no evidence that a decrease in consumption of sugary drinks will do anything to reduce obesity rates. Even Dr. Thomas Friedan, President Obama’s director of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) and former commissioner of New York City’s Health Department, has admitted as such.

“It’s not known whether if people reduce their consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages they would offset that by consumption of other high caloric items,” Friedan said at a press briefing in July of 2009.

But the grants given to New York City ($31 million) and New York State ($3 million) to fund anti-obesity campaigns are the kind of federal government expenditures people like Alex Cortes want to prevent. Cortes is the coordinator of a campaign to defund the stimulus money that has yet to be spent and use it to pay down the federal deficit.

“It’s time to defund it,” said Cortes, who estimated the remaining funds are more than $45 billion. “It doesn’t make any fiscal sense. These are the types of funds we’re looking to bring back to the Treasury.”

On February 17, the two-year anniversary of the Recovery Act, freshman Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, at the request of Cortes and other defund advocates, introduced a bill to do just that.