SNAP judgement: Should North Dakota restrict 'junk food' products for food stamp users?

Published: May. 6, 2019 at 5:57 PM CDT
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Lawmakers in Texas are considering a bill that would keep food stamp users from buying junk food. Legislators say it's an effort to curb diabetes and other health issues. We asked officials how that bill would fair in our area.

Chips, sweets, soda and energy drinks: these are a few of the foods in a proposed Texas bill that would be off limits for food stamp users—at least under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

"There's a carrot and a stick opportunity,” Sen. Kathy Hogan (D-Fargo) said. “And this is the stick."

Before Hogan became a legislator here in Fargo, she headed Cass County social services for 18 years. She says this idea is not new to legislators.

"The idea that we should limit sugary drinks or sugar products or candy has been probably talked about for 20 years," she said.

According to the USDA, SNAP households spend about two percent more on sweetened beverages, at 9.3 percent, than non-SNAP households, at 7.1 percent.

But Chip Ammerman, who directs social services, says it's less about poor choices and more about what people can afford.

"The healthier foods are more expensive,” he said. “The fruits, the vegetables, the non-processed foods is more expensive than the processed, easily-used foods like chips and that type of thing."

According to data from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, here in North Dakota more than 71 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children.

"Poor children need to also be recognized and valued,” Hogan said. “And overregulation of this sort is really demoralizing. And they have enough issues."

"The other part is all of us eat non-nutritional foods,” Ammerman said. “It's called treats."

But there is one more important piece to the puzzle:

"The SNAP budget comes through the Ag bill," Hogan said. "...So dairy is a very big and critical piece of the Ag. And dairy is a big part of food stamps.”

In the proposed Texas bill, one exception to the restricted sweetened beverages appears to be milk products—unless it's an energy drink.

And here in North Dakota, the agricultural economy depends largely on sugar.

"The controversial piece is whether we should subsidize sugar by allowing sugar in the food stamp program... And we have a large sugar and manufacturing production machine," Hogan said.

But whatever the reason, the bottom line is that here in North Dakota—we're told it's only the business of the purchasers to decide what they buy.

To read the Texas bill, head here:

For North Dakota SNAP stats and facts, check this out:

And here are the stats we found from the USDA: