Mayor Looks To Ban Sugary Drinks From Food Stamp Users

Bloomberg: Taxpayers Have Right To See Better Use Of Money

NEW YORK (CBS 2/1010 WINS/WCBS 880/AP) — Is it the latest example of too much government? Maybe even too much Mayor Michael Bloomberg?

First there were bike lanes and then no smoking on beaches. On Thursday came another proposal: no food stamps for soda or other sugared drinks.

LISTEN: 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reports the Mayor wants sugary drinks off the Food Stamp Program
LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reports Mayor Bloomberg is pushing to disallow the purchase of sugary drinks with food stamps

CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman talked to the mayor and also got some answers from food stamp recipients that could surprise you.

Obesity and diabetes are all too common in communities like East Harlem. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says sugared drinks pose a major public health problem for weight-related diseases, especially in low-income communities.

“I don’t think anyone would suggest that you be able to take food stamps and buy cigarettes or buy alcohol,” Bloomberg said.

No, but what Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson are asking the federal government to do is to block the city’s 1.7 million food stamp recipients from using stamps to buy soda and sugared drinks. You may have already seen one of their anti-sugar commercials.

Bronx resident Anna Harkless, who receives food stamps, said the mayor should back off.

“Because maybe he don’t drink it, it’s OK? It’s not fair! He does anything that he wants to do, and he don’t think about the people, especially in a neighborhood like this,” Harkless said.

Guzman then went one-on-one with the mayor over the issue.

Guzman: “’They’re meddling in my life once again.’ What do you say to them?”

Bloomberg: “We shouldn’t be meddling. And we’re not meddling! You have a right to go and buy full-sugared drinks. And no one’s trying to take that away. But if you ask the public taxpayer to give you money that was designated to improve your health — to give you more nutritious food — and more of it — then it shouldn’t be used for things that are not nutritious.”

Lillie Johns, who spoke to Guzman outside the East Harlem Pathmark on Thursday, also uses food stamps.

“But a lot of us are obese from drinking too many sodas! And I’ve come in here, and I’ve seen people with their shopping carts filled up with nothing but Pepsis!” Johns said.

Similar proposals have failed before, because even health advocates say they unfairly label people on food stamps as if they can’t make healthy choices. A proposal to adopt a penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened soda failed to get out of the state Legislature earlier this year; Bloomberg backed the state proposal.

“We continue to see a dramatic rise in obesity among children, especially in low-income communities,” state Department of Health Commissioner Richard Daines said. “This initiative targets a major public health threat — the high consumption of sugary beverages — which have little to no nutritional value.”

More than half of adult New York City residents are overweight or obese, along with nearly 40 percent of public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

City officials said lower-income residents are most likely to drink one or more sugar-sweetened drinks a day; type 2 diabetes is also twice as common among poor New Yorkers compared to the wealthiest.

USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee said Thursday the agency received the proposal and will consider it.

The department recently launched a pilot program to encourage food stamp recipients to make more healthful choices in their food shopping. Under the program, involving 7,500 randomly selected households in Massachusetts, participants get 30 cents added to their benefit balances for every dollar they spend on fruits and vegetables — which reduces the cost of fresh produce by almost one-third.

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  • Sharyn

    OMG I have another comment and probably opening another can of worms but I can’t help wondering why someone who needs food stamps still has cable/internet? I have gone through some troubling times financially and the first thing I did was cut out all the unnecessary things like Starbucks, dinning out, and eventually my tv and then my internet. Who has time to sit around watching tv and reading all these stupid postings anyway. Go read a good book. Thats all I have to say and I wont be checking back to see if anyone replies.

  • Nick K

    That’s treating the symptoms….not the disease.

  • Levon

    Here is an idea. How about removing every registered republican from the welfare system. I mean there has to be a kot of them on there since there aren’t many jobs (thanks to them). If we did that, imagine all the money we would save in taxes. I don’t mind pay for the poor. I don’t like paying for the lazy. But I hate paying for hypocrites.

  • Josh P

    So they can buy all the chips, dip, jerky, spam and cookies that they please, but not soda. That makes so much sense. Rationing the amount of soda they buy in a month would be a better idea.

  • Frank from the South Bronx

    @Great Idea: I would agree with some of the views you wrote but i’m sure you wouldn’t mind then living in Cuba for a few years. Yeah, it’s a great start. A great start to giving up your freedom to choose. Public Assistance isn’t what it used to be with people abusing the system for years. Things aren’t that easy anymore. It has become that people who are applying for Public Assistance are your Middle Class who have run out of Unemployment Benefits and have no other safety net. These are the new “welfare Recipients” who have worked years for this entitlement and have “earned” it. Though it is true people pay taxes for this, it is only a small percentage of your taxes that goes toward this program. It’s easy for one to say “I pay taxes so these people can take advantage of the system”. That’s another way of justifying one’s ignorance as to the cause of “these people” on public assistance. These days it’s easier for an illegal immigrant to apply and get public assistance than someone who was born here and has worked most of their use public assistance when they need it. It’s definitely not what it used to be. And by the way, I use food stamps and I have given up SODA a long time ago. I only buy selter water, so let’s dispell the MYTH that because I pay taxes for public assistance that I can tell you how to live. There are more important issues (that we pay taxes for) in our great US of A that we should be concerned about.

  • Great Idea

    @Frank, you still have the choice to buy your own soda with your own money. But if you’re using my money, I’d prefer you didn’t stock up on something that is just empty calories and will lead to you going on medicare or medicaid for your diabetes down the road, which I will have to pay for as well. Also, just being on Food Stamps is more socialism than communism. If you want pure capitalism, then you wouldn’t be allowed to go on food stamps in the first place cuz they wouldn’t exist. Also, a lot of people on Food stamps are in fact unhealthy and uneducated, but not all of them, so you’re correct. And yes, I do understand it’s about a lot more than just health and soda. That’s why I said it’s a great “first step”. Food stamps are supposed to be temporary, not a way of life. If you are using other people’s money to buy your own food, those other people have the right to tell you what you can and cannot buy with those stamps. There’s nothing un-American or communistic or even unfair with telling people on food stamps not to spend their food stamps on sodas. Why do you need sodas? If you’re on limited food supply, you’re gonna grab a 12-pack of Sprite over a jar of peanut butter? It’s easier for you to say you’d take the soda now because it’s free. But if you had to spend your own money for it you’d realize that it’s a bad choice. That’s right, I said choice. A choice you’d still have if it was banned from Food Stamps. A choice you’d understand more if you were forced to use your own money and take your own responsibility for that choice.

    @HBD, sounds like Soda is the least of your problems. Maybe when you wake up and realize that in America you have a lot more control over your own destiny than most other people in the world you’ll realize that begging for soda is just a bad idea. Banning soda from food stamps = Good Idea.

    And before you all hate on me, let me say again — After I graduated college I had a lot of trouble finding a job and for a year was making $6 per hour and was on food stamps. During that year, if you told me I couldn’t buy any soda with my food stamps I would say “okay, that’s fine”. It’s amazing what our generation thinks it is entitled to. Ever hear of something called “rations” that our grandparents had to deal with during war time? Do you think they worried about “having the freedom to buy soda”?

    • Sharyn

      wow Great Idea I couldn’t have said it better myself. I will add though, I feel the same rules that apply to W I C should also be applied to food stamps. For those who are not familiar with W I C look it up.

  • Frank from the South Bronx


    For those that think it’s about people’s health, I have a BRIDGE FOR SALE!

  • Roy

    p.s. to all you fat kids out there,try diet soda………………………and no sugar

  • HBD

    To Great Idea… Give people decent jobs that pay enough to live and we will no longer need food stamps. The Rich corporations have raped us all. When you go to work for 7.50 an hour in manhattan you are being raped. Then you get food stamps so you can know that you are a raped person.

  • Roy

    Excellent idea !,lets ban CHITO’s also

  • HBF

    What happened to allowing people to self monitor themselves. I hate the mayor playing big daddy telling people what they can do and where they can do it. Like smoking on the beach…Like what kinds of foods you can buy. We are a weak people because we have given up our rights to make decisions.

  • Frank from the South Bronx

    This is another example of Social Engineering that’s been going on, especially here in NYC. I voted for Bloomberg his first term but was alarmed when he went against the people’s vote for Term Limits. He literally bought his third term in office people! have we forgotten so soon? Mr. Mayor, enough already! There are far more serious issues to tackle than sugary foods, this is AMERICA! one should be able to have the “choice” to eat what they want to eat and not being told or forced to do otherwise. hmmm.. sounds alot like Communism to me.
    @Casual: Maybe you should pay attention to what your government is doing than correcting someone’s spelling.
    @Great Idea: Most people who are using public assistance are not uneducated and do not lead unhealthy lifestyles. You of all people should understand that it’s not about SODA or peoples health.



  • Great Idea

    First off, Laura, If you really want to “monitor yourself”, you can use your own money. By taking food stamps, you’re taking other people’s money and as tax paying voters we can choose to regulate that how we like. I’ve been on food stamps before, so I know what it’s like. I think adding incentives for buying nutritious food like fresh produce is a great idea and banning soda and other sweetened drinks is a great first step. Food stamps are not supposed to be a permanent fixture in your life. It’s supposed to be an aid for when you’re down financially, so you can try to get back up again. Soda is not a necessity and tons of research shows that kids who stay away from soda live healthier lives.

  • Kyle

    To be fair tons of food products have HFCS in it, although Sodas are one of the most blatant cases of overuse.

    I would agree that it is morally wrong to spend assistance money on junk food or sweets, as opposed to fruits/veg/grains.

  • laura

    well tell jobs to pay better. I do work full time and go to school full time. I’m tired of everyone thinking everyone on food stamps abuses the system. They barely give you enough to pay your rent. Give up your salary for a year a month even, jump thru all the hoops. See how nice it is. It sucks being on social service, but I have no choice. There is no more need for further hurdles in the system.

  • laura santiago

    this is absurb. we should not all have to suffer cause people dont’ know how to regulate themselves. not right congress. leave our food stamps alone. kids need snacks, and not all parent give them nothing but sugar. get over your control issues, let us monitor ourselves. you people have well passed overstepped your authority.

    • Casual Absurber

      Laura, maybe you should buy a bottle of Spell-check cola.

  • CSI

    Well this is good and not good. I dont think its only drinks. They should add junk food as well. There are plenty of times i go to the supermarket and there are people who use there food stamps to literally buy cart loads of cakes, cookies and sodas. Its horrible. Thats why they always need so much money. If they take the time and buy actual food they will save and eat healthy. but its not to say they shouldn’t buy at all. So telling them they cant buy is not good. Just give them less money and they will wise up and buy whole foods and learn to cook again instead of buying a bunch of frozen and packaged just. Anyway if they are capable he need to make them work for that money.

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