Start small in reforming food stamp program

Banning sugary soft drinks from the program could be a good start.

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Food stamps, originally issued by the federal government to keep low-income families from going hungry, long ago morphed into something bigger -- but not always better.

Food stamps have been abused by some. The food stamp program -- now renamed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP -- has been a political target as taxpayers have voiced outrage over seeing tax dollars used to buy everything from Fritos and Cheetos to Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew to Twinkies and Ding Dongs.

The concern isn't just money. It's nutrition.

A report released by a California watchdog group focusing on the lack of nutrition has renewed debate over food stamps.

Michele Simon, who wrote a report for Eat Drink Politics on the poor nutritional value of SNAP purchases, was frustrated the USDA did not collect or release hard data. She said the lack of transparency regarding SNAP covers up what amounts to billions of dollars in corporate welfare to junk food makers and other companies at a time when Congress is contemplating blanket cuts to a program that provides crucial assistance to hungry people, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Federal and state efforts to limit junk food purchases have been opposed by the USDA -- which oversees the food stamp program. To this point, reform has been put on hold.

Taxpayers would certainly like to see their tax dollars spent more wisely on foods that provide better nutrition.

But politics is not the biggest problem with reform. It's logistics. Oversight of a program this massive that has money funneled through 50 states would be incredibly complex and very expensive. It's likely the USDA has fought reforms because enforcing them could possibly cost more than is currently being spent.

The sad fact is that some people on food stamps can't easily get to markets with wide selections. They are then forced to go to small, higher cost markets nearby where they live.

In addition, establishing a list of specific foods that can and can't be purchased will force checkers to become food police.

Still, that's not reason enough not to try -- it just means the approach has to be smart and targeted.

Start small like banning the purchase of either sugary drinks, carbonated beverages or both. This could be easily done.

In Washington state, for example, carbonated beverages are subject to sales tax. Therefore, drinks that are taxed would not be allowed under SNAP.

SNAP provides a vital service that continues to help many Americans live healthy, successful lives. Reform will ensure the program continues to achieve those goals. Reform takes time.

It should start small and start now.

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