State Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican, framed the bill as an effort to curb diabetes and other health issues associated with sugar. At least one recent study has suggested that stores took advantage of financial incentives from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by marketing sugary beverages more on days when SNAP benefits were disbursed. Legislators argue that it makes sense to remove the incentive to pay for junk foods with taxpayer money (approximately $70 billion a year), yet laws that limit how food stamps are spent do more to punish people living in poverty than actually improve overall public health.
According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, sugary drinks make up a large percentage of SNAP household food expenditures — roughly 9.3 percent of the total purchases in 2011. But, while this number may seem high, it’s actually nearly the same as non-SNAP households who spent 7.1 percent on sugary drinks. Purchases of candy, meanwhile, were slightly higher in households that didn’t rely on SNAP, and salty snacks were purchased with nearly equal frequency in SNAP and non-SNAP households.
Diets that are high in sugar certainly have an impact on public health, which has led lawmakers in other states to take steps towards cutting soda and sugary drink consumption by limiting soft drink sizes and changing rules on what types of drinks restaurants can offer kids. These soda taxes, however, are inherently unpopular and difficult to pass because of the strength the soda lobby. In the case of New York City’s soda prohibition, a court ruled that the city’s Board of Health didn’t have the authority to institute a ban. If passed, the Texas law will go into effect at the beginning of September.
Of course, Texas’s attack on SNAP benefits looks more like an effort to demonize poor people for their spending habits. As it stands, food stamps are already under siege by the Trump administration, which views the program not as an important tool for helping prevent hunger, but as a financial burden on taxpayers. If this really were a matter of public health, than wouldn’t it be better to create a regulation for sugary beverages that impacts all consumers, rather than a small minority of SNAP users? Or make healthy food more generally affordable for everyone?