Should SNAP let you drink soda

Michele Simon from EcoWatch finds the SNAP program hurtling toward an obese future if industry powerhouses such as Coca-Cola, Kraft, and Mars remain giant beneficiaries. In her report published earlier this month Food Stamps, Follow the Money: Are Corporations Profiting From Hungry Americans? Simon asks why the FDA has not tabulated SNAP's expenditure on sugary drinks. 

"Without data on how much money is being spent on Coke versus orange juice, or Lucky Charms versus oatmeal, how will we ever evaluate the nutrition goals of the program?" Simons asked in Reuters.

Some, such as Dr. Kelly D. Brownell of Yale, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, estimate SNAP soda sales to be in the billions.

“It’s a real shame that the U.S.D.A. won’t allow this to be tested,” Dr. Brownell said in the NY Times. “The government purchases $4 billion worth of soda through the food stamp program every year, and that soda is making people sick.”

Here are a few more stats from Simon's report where she examines the role of three powerful industry sectors that benefit from SNAP:

  1. Major food manufacturers such as Coca-Cola, Kraft and Mars
  2. Leading food retailers such as Walmart and Kroger
  3. Large banks, such as J.P. Morgan Chase, which contract with states to help administer SNAP benefits. Findings from the report include:
  • Powerful food industry lobbying groups such as the American Beverage Association and the Snack Food Association teamed up to oppose health-oriented improvements to SNAP, at times working with anti-hunger groups
  • At least nine states have proposed bills to make health-oriented improvements to SNAP, but none have passed, in part due to opposition from the food industry
  • In one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts together received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars—more than four times the SNAP money spent at farmers markets nationwide
  • In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma
  • J.P. Morgan Chase holds contracts in 24 states to administer SNAP benefits, indicating concentrated power and a lack of competition
  • In New York, a seven-year deal originally paid J.P. Morgan Chase $112 million for EBT services, and was recently amended to add $14.3 million—an increase of 13 percent
  • States are seeing unexpected increases in administrative costs, while banks and other private contractors are reaping significant windfalls from the economic downturn and increasing SNAP participation.