Preserving Consumer Choice in SNAP
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps – is the largest nutrition assistance program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with more than 47 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits in 2011. Created by the Food Stamp Act of 1977, the program seeks to alleviate hunger and malnutrition by increasing food purchasing power for Americans in need.
Recently, federal legislative proposals that would restrict the use of SNAP benefits to certain foods have been touted as a way to improve the health of SNAP recipients. Similar proposals also have been introduced in various state legislatures. GMA strongly opposes legislation that seeks to restrict consumer choice and advocates for a uniform federal SNAP program.
With the introduction of more than 15,000 new products into the marketplace every year, updating and enforcing a list of prohibited items will place a costly, undue burden on USDA and retail and manufacturing businesses, with no clear benefit to public health. Further, there is no scientific basis for the creation of a list of “good” or “bad” foods. Together, these factors would make implementation of proposed SNAP regulations excessively complicated, as well as contradictory to the whole-diet approach at the heart of the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Restricting choice will hurt SNAP recipients.
- SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger and food insecurity in the U.S. Parents need every option available to them to ensure their families are nourished – not fewer.
- One in four children today relies on SNAP to meet their basic food needs.
There is no direct link between limiting SNAP choice and reducing obesity.
- Studies have found that children in low-income households have a lower risk of being overweight if they participate in certain federal nutrition programs.
- About 70 percent of all SNAP participants – those who receive less than the maximum benefit – are expected to purchase a portion of their food with their own money.
- There is no evidence that restricting the use of benefits will affect food purchases – other than the likelihood of substituting one form of payment (cash) for another (SNAP benefits).
Restricting SNAP choice will pose significant implementation challenges and increase program complexity and costs to government and employers.
- The task of identifying, evaluating and tracking the nutritional profile of every food available for purchase would be excessively costly to USDA.
- Many small stores and specialty markets do not have scanning and inventory control systems, which means ensuring compliance would rest in the hands of employees at checkout counters in 160,000 stores nationwide.
- Some supermarkets could lose the ability to accept SNAP under a more complicated system, which could mean lost customers, lost revenue and could ultimately lead to fewer grocery stores.
SNAP is a federal program that has both a positive impact on the economy and exceptionally low error rates.
- For every dollar spent on SNAP benefits, GDP is increased by nearly two dollars.
- SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program with error rates at an all-time low.
Education and incentives – not punitive restrictions – are the way to encourage healthy choices.
- Expanded nutrition education that enables participants to make healthier choices and incentives that encourage the purchase of healthier food options offer a more practical and likely effective way to promote dietary improvements that will help reduce obesity.
- Food Research and Action Center SNAP White Paper and Recommendations
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service SNAP Web Site
- 2010 SNAP Benefit Redemption Annual Report
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service Implications of Restricting the Use of Food Stamp Benefits (March 2007)