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Meals & nutrition

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Can U Buy Soda With Food Stamps



Gift baskets that contain both food and non-food items, are not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits if the value of the non-food items exceeds 50 percent of the purchase price. To read the most recent notice about gift baskets, click here.




can u buy soda with food stamps



Lawmakers in Arkansas have recently introduced a bill potentially restricting the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) to only be used for food considered healthy, with sufficient nutritional value.


If you peer into Americans' grocery carts, you're unlikely to see a mix of foods and beverages that make for an ideal diet. And this is true for many of the nearly 42 million people who receive food stamps, too.


This happened back in 2012, when a Florida state senator sponsored a bill to restrict the use of food stamps to buy soda and junk food in her state. "Should we give hungry kids food? Absolutely," Ronda Storms, then a state senator, told me back in 2012. (She no longer serves in the state Senate.) "But I don't think the goal is to provide Oreos and Mountain Dew," she said, calling such purchases a misuse of public-assistance dollars.


Government guidelines are strict: SNAP is intended to provide food, which means you can buy fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, dairy products, breads and cereals, baby food and formula, and nonalcoholic beverages with an EBT card. But nonfood items such as cleaning supplies, paper products, and other household items are prohibited.


If Red Bull gives you wings, the Food and Nutrition Service is not going to ground you. Energy drinks that include nutrition facts labels are one of the many surprising things you can buy with food stamps. But if your energy-boosting beverage of choice carries a supplement facts label, it falls under the same category as vitamins and medicines and doesn't make the cut.


There have been many calls to restrict the types of food that can be purchased with food assistance, particularly in light of growing concerns over obesity and diabetes among Americans. Still, though junk foods like chips, candy, snack crackers, ice cream, and soft drinks may not be particularly nutritious or healthy fare, they're fair game for purchase with SNAP benefits.


Convenience often comes at an extra cost, and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service doesn't want to foot that bill. Hot foods and prepared food items meant to be consumed immediately or on the premises cannot be purchased with an EBT card. So, rotisserie chicken is a no-go, as is seafood that has been steamed or fried, and stews, soups, and chili. But cold deli foods, including sliced lunchmeat, packaged sandwiches, salads, and sushi rolls should be fine (although some beneficiaries report that sushi's SNAP eligibility is a sticking point at some stores).


Despite the general prohibition on EBT purchases of hot food, the Restaurant Meals Program makes concessions for qualifying beneficiaries in certain states. SNAP recipients who are elderly, people with disabilities who may not be able to prepare their own meals, and people who are homeless and lack a place to store food can use SNAP at select restaurants in Arizona, parts of California, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Maryland.


The list of restaurants where you can buy food with SNAP includes fast-food establishments like Burger King, Denny's, Domino's Pizza, Popeye's, El Pollo Loco, and Subway. Use the official USDA SNAP Retailer Locator to verify participants in your area.


The government's rules are clear: Pet upkeep comes at owners' expense, and pet food isn't eligible for SNAP. The rule has long been a point of contention, with petitions filed to amend it so that pet owners experiencing financial hardship don't have to turn their pets over to shelters because they're unable to feed them. (The Humane Society's Pets for Life is one program that helps struggling owners provide pet food and veterinary care.)


When a customer pays part of the grocery bill with SNAP and part in cash, federal law requires that the SNAP benefits be applied to foods that would be subject to tax first. The federal prohibition on taxing food bought with SNAP means that some otherwise taxable food sales escape taxation. In fact, because orders bought partially with SNAP and partially with another form of payment must have SNAP applied to the taxable foods first, SNAP junk food purchases are slightly over-represented. Maybe a rounding error in the scheme of things, but an interesting observation.


Defining healthy food is harder than you would think. Should calories be the determining factor? What about nutrients, either those the food contains or those it lacks? A stick of butter or bottle of oil is just fat but these are normally included in a balanced diet so fat content of a single item is not a very good indicator of whether the item belongs in a well-rounded diet. Orange juice contains more sugar and calories than diet soda, but no state with a food exemption taxes 100% juice, and non-caloric sweeteners may also be unhealthy so, again, a straight calorie reading may not be the best indicator. Dry breakfast cereals are often highly sweetened but they are also fortified with vitamins and minerals and face it, not everyone is having a bowl of unsweetened oatmeal with fresh fruit for breakfast. Even pure junk food can be part of a reasonably healthy diet when consumed in moderation.


At the federal level, the USDA has determined that the benefit of limiting SNAP to healthier foods is outweighed by the complexity of having to figure out if each item falls into the good or bad category. Businesses in most states have to deal with this item by item analysis, though, for sales tax purposes. There are some 40,000 items in the average supermarket so it is an enormous job!


A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicates that retailers are more likely to market soda during the days of the month when people receive money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). The research, which focuses on three cities in upstate New York, shows that stores in census tracts with high SNAP enrollment are more than four times more likely to advertise or display sugary drinks during the days SNAP payments are disbursed.


Nutrition and public policy expert Marion Nestle answers readers' questions in this monthly column written exclusively for The Chronicle. E-mail your questions to food@sfchronicle.com, with "Marion Nestle" in the subject line.


Today, the debit cards provided by SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) can be used for all foods with these exceptions: alcoholic beverages, pet foods, nutrient supplements and on-site prepared foods.


Such a ban is a popular proposal from public health advocates who want to interfere with the market-based approach currently taken by SNAP, which provides additional resources for food purchases but generally leaves the recipients free to choose what and where to buy, subject to prices, their budget constraints, and their tastes and preferences. The argument put forth in the Times article, and the proposed policy reforms banning the purchase of certain commodities with SNAP dollars, are misleading and potentially even dangerous to this fundamental U.S. safety net program.


There are a few broad types of restrictions that have gained policy traction. One set involves narrowly targeting the commodities that can be purchased with SNAP, another involves restricting the purchase of unhealthy foods broadly, or sodas or sugar sweetened beverages in particular, and another proposes banning purchases of certain luxury foods. Each of these will be difficult to implement in practice because of the complexities involved in determining which items would fall under the ban. In addition, the restrictions would increase the administrative burden on private businesses, and particularly on small establishments.


The USDA findings are consistent with my own published research using the Consumer Expenditure Survey that also found similar spending patterns across food categories for SNAP and non-SNAP households.11


Strengthening SNAP and reducing food insecurity in the more than 22 million U.S. households that receive nutritional assistance on a monthly basis is a smart public investment that will improve both public health and economic growth. Banning certain foods will raise the administrative burdens and cost of the program, but is unlikely to change consumption. By contrast, policy changes that strengthen the purchasing power of SNAP benefits and allow markets to function without undue interference are more likely to improve dietary choices of recipients and reduce food insecurity.


A 2018 congressional report found that for every $10,000 paid out by food-stamp programs across the U.S, just $21 was found to have been lost to fraud. Phelan, however, maintains those figures would be higher if there were greater oversight of the program, which in Texas provides low-income households with an average benefit of $259 per month.


Will a carrot or a stick approach work best in New York? The city and state are petitioning the federal government to allow them to ban soda or other sugary drinks from the food stamps program. If the request is granted, this will be the first time the federal government has agreed to this type of waiver.


State and city health officials are trying to attack the health problems caused by obesity, reports NPR. Statistics say that 57 percent of adults and 40 percent of school kids are overweight or obese. The proposed waiver was announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and state Governor David Patterson on October 7. Under the proposal, the ban on soda would include drinks that have more than 10 calories per 8 ounces. Fruit juices that do not contain added sugar, milk and milk substitutes, even if they are sweetened, would be still be available for purchase with food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 041b061a72


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