Lawmakers who at one time in their lives used food stamps question House proposal on soda
USDA has rejected calls by states and cities to eliminate soft drinks from what SNAP recipients can purchase
Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. Melizabethi123; Wikimedia Commons
It was more than a decade ago when federal officials rejected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to bar food stamp users from buying soda. But a GOP Florida lawmaker says it’s time to make a request for the federal government to stop subsidizing the purchase of soft drinks.
Rep. Ralph Massullo, representing Citrus County and part of Marion, is sponsoring the memorial (HB 581) that would urge Congress to prohibit the use of what is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase soft drinks.
SNAP, formerly called food stamps, is a government program that helps people buy healthy food. It helps about 2.8 million people in Florida, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The legislation declares that the consumption of soda can lead to nutritional deficiencies and health disorders including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, and that soft drinks are “nutrient poor but rich in calories.”
“What I’m trying to do with this memorial is present evidence to the federal government that they need to evaluate these programs to make them more nutritious to help these people that are in need,” Massullo told a House committee on Thursday.
(A memorial is a measure addressed to an executive agency or another legislative body which expresses the consensus of the Legislature or urges that a certain action be taken, according to a glossary of terms from the Florida Senate. It is not subject to the approval or veto powers of the governor, and does not have the effect of law.)
Democrats on the committee pushed back on the proposal.
Reps. Rita Harris of Orange County and Michele Rayner-Goolsby, representing parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas, both said they had been on food stamps at one time in their lives, said the message intended from the memorial – intention or not – seemed to be to “shame” people.
“I just think that with (the) memorial we’re somewhat being a little hypocritical,” added South Florida Democrat Felicia Robinson. “We’re saying that people that have money, they can buy whatever they want, but because we’re assisting a certain group, we’re going to restrict what they buy.”
Elizabeth DeWitt, the president of the Florida Beverage Association, said her organization also opposed the memorial. She told the subcommittee that statistics show that soda consumption has declined but obesity rates have increased, refuting the notion that consumption of soda directly leads to obesity.
Even if the measure passes both legislative chambers, it’s dubious about whether the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will acquiesce to Florida’s request.
States such as Illinois, Minnesota, Florida and Texas “have either proposed bills in state legislatures or applied with to the USDA to prohibit the purchase of certain food and drink items using SNAP funds, according to a 2019 brief at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. None of those proposals have been successful.
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