Maine healthcare officials requested Monday the federal government let them ban food stamp receipts from buying junk food and soda.
The federal government doesn’t allow states to ban food stamp recipients from buying junk food and soda. The Maine Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS), however, believes such a ban will greatly help the program and those in it. The food stamp program is officially known as The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Run by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is the nation’s largest food assistance program.
DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew says the request is not likely, according to the Greenfield Daily Reporter. The USDA has never granted such a waiver. The department banned recipients from purchasing alcohol, drugs and many other consumer goods. Nevertheless, Mayhew and others in the state believe the ban is worth pursuing. Currently, 15 percent of residents receive food stamp benefits.
An estimated 5 percent of benefits are spent on soda and candy, reports the local affiliate of ABC. The total of amount of those purchases comes close to $20 million. Mayhew added that the federal government refuses to release the exact numbers so estimates are the best the state can do. Nevertheless, the state has paid $115 million in obesity related healthcare problems in just the last year.
Not everyone is behind the plan. Some advocates for ending hunger claim the ban is another attempt to discourage people from using benefits. Michelle Lamm, director of the Maine Hunger Initiative, notes recipients don’t get a lot out of the programs to begin with.
“The SNAP benefits are dismal at best, I think they’re $4.00 a day for all 3 meals, so there are a limited amount of benefits,” Lamm told the local affiliate of NBC. “Families are doing all they can to buy the foods that they need, that are healthy.”
According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the program increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million.
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