Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is renewing its attempt to ban recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from purchasing candy and soda.
The move follows several previous attempts to enact the ban, including a piece of legislation that died in the state house this year. The Maine DHHS now hopes for a federal waiver from the USDA that would prohibit SNAP recipients from purchasing, what it calls, junk food.
The Portland Press Herald reports that the rule change comes as the Maine DHHS has spent $115 million in obesity-related claims.
Maine’s DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew stated that buying and consuming candy and sugary drinks leads to medical issues and “perpetuate a cycle of continued spending for health care services.” She added that “we believe that the banning of sugary drinks and candy from the SNAP program will make it that much easier for individuals and families to get on the road to healthy eating by making more dollars available for healthy purchases.”
This is not the first time a state has requested the USDA, which administers SNAP, enact such a ban through a waiver. Nine states have attempted it, including New York in 2011. The New York Times quoted then-New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley on the USDA’s rejection saying, “[it] really calls into question how serious the USDA is about addressing the nation’s most serious nutritional problem.”
The USDA states that it denied New York’s request due to logistical issues including which beverages could and could not be purchased.
Mayhew echoed Farley’s sentiments recently, saying that, in fighting obesity, the USDA needs to start “walking the talk”.
Opposing Maine’s ban is a coalition that includes Maine Equal Justice Partners, an advocacy group for low-income Mainers. They argue that the junk food ban has been attempted repeatedly not only in Maine but by other states and has been struck down every time.
Furthermore, the Portland Press Herald quotes MEJP’s Christine Hastedt as saying, “How are we best to improve the lives of Maine people and lift them from proverty? Is it through this, that’s going nowhere, gets a lot of air time, but isn’t going to achieve anything? Or would you take a shot at solving the transportation problem, the wages problem? Those are the solutions to poverty in our view.”