For the second time, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services has sent a request to the federal Department of Agriculture to ban soda, other soft drinks and candy from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services administers the federal government’s food stamp program.
A letter to the USDA said the department has denied similar waiver requests in the past.
“We must restore integrity to this program by advancing this common sense reform of prohibiting the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda and candy,” DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said in a statement Friday. “We do not need to debate or study whether there is any nutritional value to soda and candy.
About $3.5 billion, or 5 percent of food stamp spending, is spent on soft drinks, DHHS said in a news release. In Maine, the amount spent equals about $13 million a year.
DHHS cited rising childhood obesity rates and medical expenses in sending the waiver.
“Maine taxpayers have seen this happening in convenience stores and grocery stores while they wait in line,” Mayhew said. “Now the recent USDA study confirms the Department’s concerns that too many tax dollars are being wasted on candy and soda instead of being used for nutritional foods. With the significant challenges we face with obesity in this country, it is critical that the USDA grant Maine’s waiver request to support healthier purchases within the SNAP program. This is common sense and consistent with the USDA’s approach to school lunches and the Women Infant & Children’s program.”
The department is also requesting to use SNAP-Ed funding, which goes toward nutritional education, to go to food banks, schools and organizations.
The USDA advocates for SNAP users to make healthy choices through education and pamphlets. One item on the agency’s website teaches about “easy” and “healthy” family meals.
Because SNAP is a federal program, Maine would need a waiver to change items covered.
Last year, DHHS adopted a new rule removing people from the food stamp program if they win more than $5,000 in lottery or gambling prizes.