Food Stamps for Fast Food?

July 08, 2011

SNAP recipients may soon be able to use their benefits at fast food eateries. Why would the government make this move in the middle of the obesity crisis?

Food stamps for fast food? That’s what Yum Brands is lobbying for throughout Kentucky, a state that ranks seventh in terms of the highest rates of obesity. Currently most states allow food stamps, SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to be used for soda, ice cream, candy and potato chips, but hot prepared meals are “off limits,” except in parts of California, Arizona, and Michigan where those receiving benefits can head to fast food eateries to fill their bellies.
What’s the logic to providing SNAP benefits that can be used for fast food? Lobbyists argue that those receiving benefits may be homeless or have an unstable living conditions and thus do not have regular access nor time to prepare meals in a kitchen, therefore should be able to purchase inexpensive (cheap), and quick hot meals. This couldn’t be farther from the truth as those eligible for food stamps often are able to pay all other household expenses but do not have enough left over to sufficiently feed their family.  
It’s no secret that America’s poor are more likely to be malnourished and obese than higher income groups, and they are also more likely to buy food from fast feeders, but that doesn’t warrant the government handing out free tickets to unhealthy behavior. A similar program, the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) provides federally funded, health and nutrition programs – including supplemental foods (like SNAP), health care referrals, nutrition education, and other community services for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women. But unlike SNAP, WIC sets standards for the types of foods that can be purchased with program dollars.  

The allowed foods are those advised by the FDA’s Food and Nutrition Service’s guidelines and are mostly those that have undergone minimal processing, do not contain long lists of artificial flavors nor ingredients, and do not contain added salts and sugars. Foods have been chosen based on strict nutrition advice; i.e. only 100% unsweetened-fruit juice can be purchased, as well as %100 whole wheat bread, canned vegetables may not contain added sugars, fats, oils or meats, and all fresh vegetables are allowed (except white potatoes).
It seems almost backwards that two USDA programs, WIC and SNAP are run so differently. The WIC program, both nutritionally and educationally, is a great model for how to move forward with SNAP; women, infants and children need proper nutrition, but so does the rest of the population, no matter what stage of life they are in. Allowing SNAP recipients to use benefits at fast food eateries is not the answer.