In Maine, food stamps can currently be used to purchase unhealthy snacks, including candy and soda. However, lawmakers are taking steps to prohibit consumers from using food stamps to buy sugary “junk” foods.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, or SNAP, is a program overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture that “offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities.”
According to the USDA website, households applying for foods stamps must prove that their countable resources do not exceed $3,200 and that their net monthly income does not exceed 100 percent of the poverty level. For example, a family of four must have a net income below $2,025 to qualify for the food stamp program.
The maximum monthly SNAP benefit, which is calculated based on income and family size, is an average of $160 per person.
With the exception of the disabled and the elderly, food stamp recipients are required to meet a series of work requirements to remain eligible for assistance. Although each state is different, the federal guidelines require SNAP recipients to make an honest effort to seek employment, to accept a job if offered, to remain employed and work the required hours, and to participate in any state-required employment or training programs.
Although the SNAP program is still referred to as “food stamps,” the paper coupons have been replaced with electronic benefit cards, which are reloaded on a month-to-month basis.
As reported by Eligibility.com, SNAP benefits are meant to purchase groceries necessary to supplement a household’s nutritional needs. Therefore, they cannot be used to purchase alcohol and tobacco products. Recipients are also prohibited from using their food stamps to purchase food at restaurants or fast-food chains.
The USDA clearly recommends using SNAP benefits to purchase healthy foods, including bread and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry, dairy products, and seeds and plants that produce foods. However, the program does not prohibit the purchase of candy and soda.
Although the federal rules are clear, the food stamp program in Maine could soon ban the purchase of sugary “junk” food.
The proposed ban, which was initiated by Governor Paul LePage, cites a November 2016 USDA study that suggests SNAP benefits are used to purchase more than $600 million worth of sugary drinks and more than $138 million worth of candy each year.
According to LePage, the food stamp program in Maine is “broken.” Therefore, he is pleading with the USDA to allow the state to ban the use of SNAP benefits to purchase candy and soda.
As reported by the Bangor Daily News, LePage made similar pleas to the USDA in 2013, 2015, and 2016. However, his requests were ultimately denied. The governor hopes to get different results from the administration under President Donald Trump.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 21, 2017
According to the USDA, the SNAP program’s definition of “food” is clearly outlined in Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. Therefore, the definition cannot be changed to exclude candy and soda without “action by a member of Congress.”
Furthermore, USDA research “concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome.”
In addition to banning the purchase of candy and soda, LePage wants the food stamp program in Maine to exclude “people convicted of a felony drug offense after 1996.”
— WCVB-TV Boston (@WCVB) January 25, 2017
If approved, the proposal would replace Maine’s program to test public assistance recipients for drug abuse. According to reports, only one person tested positive between April and June 2015.
As reported by MyNBC5.com, the suggested changes are part of Governor LePage’s budget proposal. Although he expects the ban to save money and ensure food stamp recipients in Maine are purchasing healthy foods, the topic is certain to remain controversial.
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