Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

NY food stamps sugary drinks move

New Yorkers using food stamps will not be allowed to spend them on sugar-sweetened drinks

New Yorkers using food stamps will not be allowed to spend them on sugar-sweetened drinks under an obesity-fighting proposal being put forward by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson.

Mr Bloomberg and Mr Paterson planned to announce that they are seeking permission from the US Department of Agriculture, which administers the nation's food stamp programme, to add sugary drinks to the list of prohibited goods for city residents receiving assistance.

If approved, it would be the first time an item would be banned from the federal programme based solely on nutritional value.

The idea has been suggested previously, including in 2008 in Maine, where it drew criticism from advocates for the poor who argued it unfairly singled out low-income people and risked scaring off potential needy recipients.

And in 2004 the USDA rejected Minnesota's plan to ban junk food, including soda and sweets, from food stamp purchases, saying it would violate the Food Stamp Act's definition of what is food and could create "confusion and embarrassment" at the register.

The food stamp system, which was launched in the 1960s, helps some 40 million Americans a month and does not currently restrict any other foods based on nutrition. Recipients can essentially buy any food for the household, although there are some limits on hot or prepared foods.

Food stamps also cannot be used to buy alcohol, cigarettes or items such as pet food, vitamins or household goods.

The city and state proposal would be temporary, so officials could study its effects over two years.

It would apply only to food stamp recipients in New York City - 1.7 million of the city's more than 8 million residents - and would not affect the amount of assistance they receive.

"This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment," said a statement from Bloomberg, who also has outlawed trans-fats in restaurant food and has forced chain restaurants to add calorie counts on menus.

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