Lawmakers should reverse course on misguided SNAP restrictions

John Burnett

Amidst Congress’ best efforts to keep the government open, it’s also hard at work to re-authorize affordable food, farmers are able to insure their crops, and ranchers can export their products to foreign markets. It’s not an understatement to say it’s one of the most important bills Congress can send to the president’s desk, which is why it is so important to get it right.

Yet, some in Congress think getting it “right” means restricting certain consumers’ food items as “wrong” to buy. According to a recently introduced proposal, Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be prohibited from purchasing snacks, fruit juice, and soda – including beverages that are low calorie or zero sugar – with their benefits. It’s the equivalent of putting the federal government in between consumers and the products they enjoy. 

Bottom line: consumers deserve to have choices in the grocery store. SNAP recipients are Americans in need and are fully capable of making their own food choices, and limiting their options also stigmatizes them as incapable of responsible decision-making. This approach undermines the dignity and self-respect of SNAP participants, and it puts the government in the position of choosing what people can serve their families. This is a slippery slope that would open the door to a government good-food or bad-food list that could apply to other everyday items on the grocery list.

Nevertheless, lawmakers like Marco Rubio and others may be seeking to jam this misguided idea into the farm bill. The legislative process is hard enough as it is, but it becomes significantly more difficult as individual members of Congress and D.C. special interest groups seek to attach pet projects or priorities to what should be bipartisan legislation. And in Congress, it’s easy for a few lawmakers to derail the progress on must-pass legislation.

The basis of the idea is about removing choice, but the authors of the so-called “Healthy SNAP Act” claim it’ll help reduce spending, but the data doesn’t support it. SNAP recipients will still have the same amount of benefits.  

On the SNAP side, lawmakers could look at generating savings by capping benefits, implementing work requirements, or reducing the overall size of the program.

We all want Americans to make good choices that promote healthier eating habits, but restricting the treats parents buy their kids is not the solution. It’s a shortsighted and ineffective approach that infringes on individual freedom, further stigmatizing lower-income communities, and won’t yield the savings Senator Marco Rubio is promising. Instead, we should focus on real policies that improve access to nutritious foods and empower all individuals, regardless of their income, to make healthier choices.

As Republicans, we are proud to be the party of individual choice and freedom. These foundational principles are essential to the promise of liberty for all – that we trust our fellow Americans to make their own life choices, even if we don’t agree with them. I’m proud to subscribe to these values, which is why it is important we push back on ideas from within our party that restrict the ability for us to make our own decisions. 

These values should apply at the grocery store, so lawmakers should reverse course on their misguided SNAP restriction proposal. The last thing Americans need is more nanny state decrees from politicians who think they know best for them.

John Burnett is a business and political analyst and an adjunct assistant professor at New York University.


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