The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has requested a waiver from the federal Department of Agriculture to prohibit its welfare recipients from using food stamps to purchase sugary soft drinks and candy products.
On Feb. 17, the Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew submitted a letter to the federal government requesting authorization to ban the purchase of soda and candy using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Mayhew argued that the obesity rate in Maine was compelling enough evidence to justify limiting what welfare recipients can purchase with food stamps, the Portland Press Herald reports.
"Numerous studies confirm that as much as two-thirds of Maine's adults population is overweight or obese," Mayhew wrote. "This impacts the quality of life for Maine residents, and the chronic health conditions associated with obesity are costly to Maine taxpayers."
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In September 2016, a study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that 30 percent of Maine residents were obese in 2015, nearly triple the state's obesity rate in 1990, according to Bangor Daily News.
Maine also has one of the highest percentage of state population receiving food stamps, with 180,000 residents enrolled in SNAP as of November 2016.
In a separate statement, Mayhew asserted that SNAP benefits should focus on providing residents with products that have nutritional value.
"We do not need to debate or study whether there is any nutritional value to soda or candy," Mayhew said.
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This is the second time that Maine has asked for authorization to block SNAP purchases of candy or soda. In November 2015, the Maine DHHS requested a similar waiver from the Obama administration, which declined. The federal government has never granted such a waiver out of concern that it would result in recipients losing assistance.
The Maine DHHS' latest request follows a recent report finding that the most popular purchase by families using food stamps was soda.
In January, a USDA report found that nearly 6 percent of SNAP purchases were soft drinks. Milk came second, followed by ground beef, bag snacks and cheese.
"This study released confirmed our concerns," Mayhew told WGME.
In November 2015, when Maine had previously attempted to gain a waiver to ban food stamp purchases of soft drinks and candy, Democratic state Rep. Drew Gattine asserted that such a restriction would not help cut down the obesity rate.
"There's no evidence that these types of efforts, this type of ban, on purchasing certain types of foods has any impact on the way that people eat," Gattine said.