Should Taxpayers Have a Say in How Food Stamps Get Used?

I came across the following piece when compiling the weekday Food For Thought column, but I’ve got a bit more to say about this than I could fit into a typical line of snark.

In the US, where food stamp use has become prevalent because of the economy, there is much debate over what the stamps should be used for. Experts now want to ban junk food from qualifying for food stamp use. This currently applies to hot prepared food, household products, tobacco, dietary supplements and alcohol (note – this probably varies from state to state). The idea being that food stamps are to be used for healthy nutritious food. Which totally makes sense. Under a junk food ban, food stamps could not be used for pop, chips, chocolate, etc.

But let me tell you about a scenario I read about a few years back… someone was in line at a supermarket behind another customer using food stamps. The food stamp user was purchasing a couple of bottles of pop, a couple of bags of chips and a prepared birthday cake. The regular customer, like many US citizens, was chagrined that her tax dollars were going towards junk food and said so to the woman in front of her using the food stamps to buy the cake. Instead of being angry, the food stamp customer turned to the woman and said, “I feel bad about using food stamps to buy all this stuff, I really do. But I’ve been out of work for a year and my husband is laid up from a work injury. Today is my daughter’s 10th birthday. We can’t afford to buy her a present. We’re totally broke. We can’t really afford to waste our food stamps on a cake. As it is, we’re probably going to have to go to a food bank before the end of the month. But this is all she’s going to get for her birthday. The best we’re able to do is give her some semblance of a party. I’ll be happy to put the cake back, if you’re willing to go out to the car and explain to her why her birthday is cancelled.”

So… do we really have the right to determine how people spend money alloted to them by the government? Will banning junk food stop people on food stamps from eating it? Or should we all just mind our own business and assume that people are doing what they think is best for their families?

If you were the lady in line who had criticized the other about using food stamps to buy a cake, how would you respond to the story about the daughter’s birthday?