Want Healthy Kids? Cut Soda, Not Food Stamps

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Last week Raj Patel wrote – intelligently, of course, as he does – that passing the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill must not come down to a choice between feeding children and feeding families. A current version of the bill that has been passed by the Senate plans to fund an improved (healthier) school meal program in part by cutting $2 billion in funding for SNAP –the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program otherwise known as food stamps.

Food stamps, of course, are often the last line of defense for Americans that don’t have consistent access to sufficiently nutritious food (according to the USDA there were over 50 million of them, including more than 17 million children, in 2009). Patel argues that the Government should expand both SNAP and school meal programs, and that robbing a family’s dinner to pay for a child’s lunch is deeply misguided economic and social policy:

“People living with hunger and food insecurity are five times more likely than average to harbor thoughts of suicide or engage in self-destructive behavior. Treat that behavior and factor the lost productivity due to anxiety, depression, and suicide related to hunger, and the bill came to $31.2 billion in 2005. If the food stamp program shrinks, these costs will rise. Even if children come home from school well-fed—which, I say again, absolutely needs to happen—they will not be sheltered from the horrors that hunger inflicts on those who care for them after the school bell rings.”

He’s absolutely right. You can’t help the kids by hurting their parents. And to act as if it has all come down to this, that this is the tough choice we must now make, is ludicrous. The proposed spending increase on school meal programs amounts to $4.5 billion over ten years. You’re telling me that the only way to pay for that is to cut $2 billion from food stamps? You’ve got to be kidding.

One could always cut defense spending, of course, but there’s another way to pay for this bill, one that’s been sitting right in front of us for a while: a federal penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. Take this soda tax calculator out for a spin. In 2011 New York state could contribute over $945 million on its own. California: over $1.8 billion. You can see how quickly this adds up. A few weeks ago the Bipartisan Policy Center released a deficit reduction proposal that estimates direct revenue (not including reduced healthcare costs) from a penny-per-ounce federal soda tax at $156 billion between 2012 and 2018. According to those numbers a federal tax could fund the $4.5 billion Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill in a little over two months.

Taxing soda to fund healthier school meals benefits kids twice-over. Some might argue that a tax imposes undue hardship on low-income families (many of whom receive food stamps) who rely on soda for cheap calories. But what’s worse: discouraging food stamp dollars from being spent on soda, or slashing them outright?

We better figure it out quickly, because the time to pass a saner bill before the new Congress steps in is running out.

(Photo Credit: ack via Flickr)

 

Posted in Food Politics

10 Comments

  1. vadoug said...

    I believe we just had an election in which we rejected tax hikes of this sort. Today’s skoolkids can do just as we did, and bring a sandwich and an apple in a paper sack from home. There is no family in America so poor that it cannot afford a sack lunch.

  2. DetroitTamara said...

    Is vadoug nuts? There are THOUSANDS of families who are precisely that poor. School lunches are a necessity, just as are food stamps, and will continue to be so until the economic disparity in our great nation is addressed. Those with the means should pay MORE, not less, in taxes.

  3. Margot_S said...

    vadoug is out of touch and obviously hasn’t visited some of the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, where most residents can’t afford a sack lunch and where one would be hard pressed to find an apple for sale at the corner stores.

  4. Dawn Suhonen said...

    I also think vadoug is EXTREMELY out of touch with America’s poor. Has he visited a food shelf lately? Has he spoken to the families there? The parents that don’t eat for days at a time so their children can? These are not all addicts or drunks. These are hard working people that had a factory close, a spouse leave or die or hospital bills. Maybe they make just a tiny bit too much money to get help from the state, no food stamps for them. Tell them they aren’t too poor to afford a sack lunch.

  5. arielawonders said...

    vadoug is shocked, shocked! that there’s poverty going on in here!

  6. varunreg said...

    I always wondered how the politicians could make ridiculous decisions like these (cut food stamps to pay for child nutrition).But I thank vadoug, because I think he has opened my eyes to the answer. They don’t think that genuine poverty actually exists. Its similar to how they believe that in a situation where there are 5 applicants for every 1 job opening, the real reason people aren’t working is because they are lazy.There are no real poor people in their eyes. There are all just welfare queens. I knew Reagan was good at convincing people, I just didn’t realize he had the power to brainwash them too…

  7. indoorcamping said...

    I was so poor I couldn’t afford sacks, let alone lunches for my kids. And I worked four crappy jobs. Is this the America you want? What the rich don’t seem to realize is that, as parasites, they will die along with their host.

  8. Bettina Elias Siegel said...

    Hi Mark. I’ve reposted your soda tax proposal on The Lunch Tray (www.thelunchtray.com), but also discuss in the same piece why, even if we do get the additional six cents on the backs of SNAP recipients, we’re still nowhere near "fixing" school food. That’s what makes this forced choice doubly sad. http://bit.ly/i2PNAx

  9. Media Magnet said...

    The rich have not a clue. Their biggest problem is to hope they don’t get caught not paying taxes. They have no idea what it feels like to have fifty bucks left to buy a weeks worth of groceries to feed your kids. What they don’t understand is that when you are hungry you become desperate. You will do things that you would never consider doing otherwise. Eventually when they cause more people to go hungry they will see people rise up to stop them. The problem is with the way our government works if you don’t have money, you can not lobby for legislation that will resolve social issues.I hope that someone will see the light and put some legislation through to help the poor citizens of this country. Usually people are poor for one reason they were born into it. Family planning is key to making sure your kids have what they need.

  10. therovingstove said...

    Food banks have been barren here in Los Angeles too- all the more reason to get off my duff, and start doing something about it.

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