America's Food Stamp Culture
By David Paulin
Many Americans can remember a time when a Coca-Cola was a treat: You had one now and then. But most middle-class Americans didn't drink Coca-Cola and similar carbonated drinks all the time, as if they were water. For one thing, it was too expensive to do that for most individuals and most families.
Today that's no longer the case.
Today a Coca-Cola is an entitlement in America. But it's not an entitlement for everybody. Rather, it's an entitlement for people who have fallen on hard times or are permanently stuck in them; people who are on America's growing food-stamp dole.
Recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a ban to prohibit the city's 1.7 million food-stamp recipients from using their federal food allowance to buy sugary soda drinks. Ostensibly, Bloomberg is concerned about health-related problems for New Yorkers on food stamps. After all, large numbers of them are fat or suffering from diabetes; and one reason for this, say health experts, is their large consumption of all those empty calories in sugary drinks that are popular among low-income New Yorkers – mainly blacks and Hispanics on the food stamp dole. They're suffering from what Bloomberg's office calls an “obesity epidemic.” Indeed, in New York City's public schools, 46 percent of Hispanic children, 40 percent of African-American children, and 40 percent of all children are overweight or obese, according to Bloomberg's office. The problem is substantially worse in low-income areas, said the mayor's office.
Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned Republican and now an independent, is not so politically foolish as to suggest that many New Yorkers on food stamps are irresponsible people living in an “entitlement culture.” But his call for a ban on using food stamps to buy sugary drinks amounts to the same thing because it would, if approved by Washington bureaucrats, force many food-stamp recipients to adjust their lifestyles and make smarter supermarket purchases.
Bloomberg's proposal has gotten mostly positive reviews, with his two main critics being the nation's beverage lobby and libertarians who contend that food stamp recipients ought to be able to buy whatever they want. (Food stamp recipients, however, are prohibited from buying tobacco and alcohol – two things that even libertarians are unlikely to say are entitlements for people suffering through hard times.)
Specifically, Bloomberg proposed a two-year ban on the use of food stamps to buy sugary drinks – during which health experts would evaluate whether the ban was helping food-stamp recipients lose some weight and reduce their high levels of diabetes.