Friday, October 8, 2010

Stamps and Soda Pop

Should food stamp recipients be allowed to purchase sugary drinks and soda pop with their stamps? NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg think a ban would be wise. And so do the city and state health commissioners.

Others think a ban would single out the less fortunate, making them feel put upon and well ... different. Consider these comments by an actual food stamp recipient:
I'm offended because, you know, it just seems like they want to pick on the people that don't have anything, people who are relying on food stamps to make changes in their lives.
Young lady, I'm afraid that train has already left the station. No one can walk into a super market and use the stamps to buy alcohol, cigarettes or prepared foods such as custom-made deli sandwiches. Indeed, I would extend the ban to certain other items in supermarkets as well.

When I was a cashier in 1981 at the old Reedy's Food Center in Keene, N.H., lots of our customers used food stamps. Most were restrained in their purchases, but some bought $12 cans of lobster, while others preferred large bags of chocolate or expensive pre-made birthday cakes — all of which were perfectly legal to buy.

Back in those days, we used the actual coupons depicted above, not the scan cards in use now. If a customer gave me a $10 coupon for a $5.95 purchase, I was supposed to give them change in food stamps. If there was coinage involved in the making of change for the customer, however, I had to give them actual currency (quarters, nickels, dimes).

I'd say at least a hundred times over my five months at that market, a customer bought one candy bar for 25 cents. When I gave back the three quarters for change, the customer would look at the coinage and give it right back to me for a pack of Marlboro Lights, which at that time cost 75 cents. So bingo: food stamps were often used to buy cigarettes.

I would go even further than Bloomberg and, if the feds permit it, come up with a list of basic items that can be purchased with food stamps. If you want soda pop or a $12 jar of Rao's pasta sauce, then you can use your own cash. But taxpayers need to know that their funds are being used wisely. Is this practical? I have no clue, but I like the idea.


  1. it's more than practical in today's computerized world. it only makes sense to have a narrow list of items allowed to be purchased. Case in point, pharmacy's that sell products that are eligible to to by purchased with a "health savings" card are required to have them flagged as such in their point of sale system. if a non-eligible product is scanned the computer will not let the transaction take place. This technology is a FEDERAL requirement to have if you want to be allowed to accept the HSA cards. if you don't have the tech, then you are out of luck. The same should go with the food stamps. If a grocer does not have the technology or can't implement it (there should be grants to small businesses to get them) then you can not accept the benefit card. And in the end, the burden of knowing what you CAN buy and what you CANT should fall on the customer. I can't imagine a 16 year old cashier having to telling a poor mother of 3 that she can't buy a stofers frozen dinner with her SNAP card.

  2. Woot-woot-woot (cartoon sound of head spinning). Is this the blog of the person who thinks government should not be intervening in the personal decisions of citizens? Now you've decided that those on food stamps are second-class citizens, and the same doesn't apply? Golly, Superman!

  3. Nice try, Fred. I'm not telling them what they can and cannot buy with their own money. Once you accept taxpayer money, however, there are strings attached.
    Should they also be able to buy beer and cigs with food stamps? After all, that would be a "personal decision," right? That's pretty lame. You can do better than that.