New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is forwarding a proposal to prohibit welfare recipients from being allowed to use their food stamps to purchase soft drinks. The new measure comes after new national figures show some 41.8 million Americans received food stamps in July, a 27-year high. Some 3.7 million Texans received food stamps in July, according to the same figures. Some 43.3 million Americans, nearly an eigth of the population, will be on food stamps by October 1, the White House estimates. The increase is largely due to continued unemployment and a lagging economy.
Mayor Bloomberg wants to use this as an opportunity to cut into the growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the City of New York by prohibiting welfare recipients from using their food stamps to buy soda in a city where, “One in eight New Yorkers has diabetes, and poor New Yorkers are nearly twice as likely as rich residents to suffer from the disease,” Time magazine reports. And The New York Times backs up those figures, “City statistics released last month showed that nearly 40 percent of public-school children in kindergarten through eighth grade were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods. City studies show that consumption of sugared beverages is consistently higher in those neighborhoods.”
Similar measures have failed in places like Minnesota where a proposal banning food stamp users from buying sodas and sweets was struck down because it perpetuated a stereotype that welfare recipients make poorer food choices (presumably non-welfare recipients make better ones, right?) “In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground — obesity and diabetes,” the mayor said in a statement.“This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.” And Bloombergs initiatives (no smoking in public places, no trans fats in foods, calorie counts on menus in New York City) have worked despite initial opposition. And cities, including Dallas, have followed New York’s efforts. We’re not smoking anymore in restaurants!
But is soda ban something Dallas should consider? Some 364,000 Dallas county residents received food stamps this month, according to State SNAP statistics. Nearly 75,000 were children under the age of 5. The majority, 138,000 +, were children ages 5-17. Plus, we already have a diabetes center in South Dallas to help curb a growing diabetes problem in our city. Is the soda ban a measure than can help the poorest in our community become healthier or are we simply looking to punish (and stereotype) a community of people (whom we assume are not smart enough to choose juice instead of RC) because statistically there are higher rates of obesity and diabetes? What purpose are we serving by denying a 5-year-old a coke? Should Highland Park residents be doing the same? Or are they more likely to have their kids on carrot juice? I can tell you, there are just as many portly white folk in Uptown and other non welfare communities (because again we’re falsely assuming residents in South Dallas or Pleasant Grove or other “troubled” communities are getting food stamps and they are of a certain race and class of people). And what’s the ultimate goal of a program like Bloomberg’s? Making poor people less dependent on sugary sodas does not hit at the root problem of welfare/food stamps: lack of work, lack of opportunity or as so many experience, working and not making ends meet (just ask the working poor). Non food stamp users don’t make healthy food choices either. And many on food stamps don’t just buy sodas. I’ve known families and single moms forced to use food stamp programs including WIC (and they had jobs!) and the goal wasn’t to fulfill the sweet tooth but to fill the cabinets with food. I understand the effort Bloomberg and perhaps others are considering but I’m not sure it’s one Dallas should consider. The effort simply stereotypes a community of people and uses food stamp users as unwilling test subjects. And assumes non food stamp recipients are making the healthiest decisions. If you’re not on welfare would you allow someone to dictate your soda, or latte, or Starbucks consumption? Then why is it OK to punish the poorest of the poor?