June 21, 2013

Editorial: No soda at public expense


---- — Fifteen of America’s mayors, led by the health-conscious Michael Bloomberg of New York, want the federal government to exclude sugary soft drinks from the list of foods that can be bought under what used to be known as the Food Stamp program.

While the suggestion smacks of too much authoritarianism, it has merit.

The mayors are invoking the current name and aim of the Food Stamp program: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which has the handy acronym SNAP.

Since 2008, that is the moniker of a program that, everybody knows, subsidizes or funds the purchase of food by low-income individuals and families.

In 2012, 46 million people received a total of $75 billion in SNAP benefits, compared with 25 million in 2004. The average allotment is $134.29 a month.

They can buy any prepackaged edible foods, regardless of nutritional value, such as soda and confections.

Hot foods (such as those found in a supermarket deli) are ineligible, as well as items in fast-food restaurants and similar retail settings. Some products are understandably excepted: No one would advocate the purchase of tobacco or alcohol on the government tab.

The mayors are leaning heavily on the term “nutrition” in the program name in trying to outlaw the purchase of sugary soda as a government expense.

But are states, which administer the benefits, to now tell SNAP families their kids can’t have soda — a veritable staple in many houses? Is this too much government interference in the daily lives of Americans?

It seems so, but not necessarily if other Americans are helping pay for the products. Soft drinks have been coming under fire in New York City, particularly, for their contribution to the obesity problem. Bloomberg was set to ban the sale of large, sugary soft drinks in New York until a judge in March ruled against it.

Bloomberg has a point: If obesity is so costly in health care for every taxpayer, why should the government not try to limit it? And, especially, why should the government help people feed it?

Mayors of 14 other big cities have joined him in his crusade against SNAP benefits for sugary soft drinks. It isn’t clear whether diet soda could still be purchased, but we presume it would. So all soda might not be ruled out.

There is momentum for the no-soda effort. Schools everywhere, including the North Country, have banned soda sale in their vending machines.

Sugar-laden soft drinks have been identified as a prime culprit in childhood obesity, which has been termed a national health epidemic.

That doesn’t mean people shouldn’t be able to buy them. But they shouldn’t be able to buy them at government expense.