SNAP Restrictions: A misguided and ineffective effort

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP — what you may know as “food stamps” — provides much-needed assistance to low-income Texans and their families. Recently, two bills have been filed at the Texas Legislature that seek to restrict what SNAP recipients can buy with that assistance. House Bill 751, by Rep. Richard Peña Raymond (D-Laredo), would  ban the purchase of  “sweetened beverages with SNAP benefits. Another bill, HB 523 by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), would ban energy drinks — but not coffee” — from the SNAP program.

The Texas Beverage Association opposes all efforts to restrict choice for any consumers — including those who receive SNAP assistance.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Advocates for low-income Texans — the strongest supporters of SNAP funding — are also opposed to SNAP restrictions (http://forabettertexas.org/images/2012_05_22_AltToSNAPRestrictions.pdf). For example, the Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) concludes, “ participation in the SNAP program does not contribute to the obesity epidemic, it is not a practical place to look to reverse the problem. … There is no empirical evidence that restricting choice in SNAP will improve diets or reduce obesity.” In fact, CPPP believes that SNAP restrictions “will likely decrease SNAP participation and increase obesity and food insecurity.”

SNAP assistance consumers are capable of making grocery choices for their families. Importantly, the beverage industry is helping consumers make that choice more easily by placing clear calorie labels on the front of every can, bottle and pack we produce so consumers know exactly how many calories they are getting before they buy.  Our industry also offers more low- and no-calorie options in an array of portion sizes. This has lead to a 23 percent reduction in the average calories per serving since 1998.

• Our beverages — not just sodas, but teas, juices, flavored waters and sports drinks — only account for about 7 percent of the calories in US diets (NHANES 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db110.htm). When it comes to healthy and balanced diets, there’s nothing unique about beverages that justifies special SNAP restrictions more than any other food product. Despite headlines about energy drinks — which HB 523 defines solely by their caffeine content — they are no more “unhealthy” than coffee. In fact, despite the misperceptions, most mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine as a similar size cup coffeehouse coffee

What You Can Do: Contact your state representative and let him or her know that you’re opposed to SNAP restrictions that don’t work, restrict freedom of choice, and make the whole program less effective. You can also get the word out to your friends, neighbors and networks and counter misinformation in the media. Stay current on the issue by visiting us here at txbev.org or following @TxBev on Twitter.