A New York state senator has introduced legislation that would prohibit the purchase of “luxury” items using food stamps.
Republican Sen. Patty Ritchie of District 48 introduced the bill on Feb. 17, pitching it as an effort to cut down on obesity. If passed into law, it would exclude “luxury food items” from being purchased using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to WKYC.
New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Program (OTDA) would be called upon to draw up a list of high-end items to be taken off the SNAP menu, but some foods already suggested by Ritchie include lobster, steak and ornate cakes.
“Many of these items aren’t just unhealthy, they’re also expensive,” Ritchie said in a statement. “This legislation would not only help low-income families and individuals stretch their food budgets further and promote health and nutrition, it would also protect taxpayers from abuse of a program that’s intended to help those who have fallen on hard times.”
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Ritchie added that, “at a time when our state and nation are struggling with an obesity epidemic, it is critically important that taxpayer-funded programs help low-income consumers make wise and healthy food choices.”
Grassroot groups who work with impoverished Americans have blasted Ritchie’s proposal as ineffective and discriminatory.
“This is just a roundabout way of continuing to stigmatize and paint this negative picture of people who receive food stamp benefits,” Vocal-NY co-executive director Alyssa Aguilera told KVAL.
Aguilera added that the bill is “either a political stunt or legislation without any foresight.”
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is already attempting to encourage SNAP-dependant Americans to eat healthier, although not by prohibiting them from purchasing certain items. Instead, the Obama administration is attempting to mandate the stores that accept SNAP benefits stock up their shelves with healthier options.
“If you’re receiving billions of dollars as an industry in taxpayer funds, it’s only just that there is an expectation that there is an adequate supply of a variety of foods, period,” stated USDA undersecretary Kevin Concannon, according to The Huffington Post.
While the USDA is attempting to curb junk food purchases and encourage healthier eating among SNAP users by broadening their options, Ritchie’s bill would limit them further.
Fun fact: lobster was not considered a delicacy until the 1950s. The shellfish was so plentiful that ordering it was considered a sign of poverty, according Pacific Standard.