We recently experienced a “super moon,' an event where that celestial body is at its closest point to Earth all year.
As everyone knows, full moons bring out eccentric behavior in people. But this super moon was an extra doozy for me. Against all odds, I found myself agreeing with not just Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (first time ever), but 17 other big city mayors. Talk about strange bedfellows.
This Gang of 18 sent the federal government a letter requesting that soda and sugary drinks become ineligible purchases for those in the food stamps program (known as SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). And since more people (47 million) receive food stamps than the population of Spain, that's a big deal.
The mayors have the right idea, but to some extent, are pushing it for the wrong reason.
They are making their case to combat obesity and other health-related diseases, citing the huge health care costs associated with that enormous problem. While it's noble trying to take a chunk out of obesity, this issue is much more basic.
When you're on the public dole, there are strings attached. Period. And that's exactly how it should be.
It's totally irrelevant whether soda causes or contributes to diabetes, heart disease or obesity. Inarguably, there are no nutritional aspects to sugary drinks; So, given that the word “nutrition' appears in the program's very name, allowing soda is contradictory.
Not surprisingly, many in the food stamp program have expressed righteous indignation with the mayors' proposal, as have numerous advocacy groups. (Help me out with that one. Why do we need advocates for people receiving free food? Only in America.)
Talk about an entitlement mentality. Taxpayers foot the bill, and that's still not enough. The expectation is that the recipient — not the donor — should be calling the shots.
Common sense tells us that those receiving generous SNAP benefits, courtesy of those who actually work for a living, should have no say whatsoever in what they can and cannot buy with food stamps. But too often they do, evidenced by the fact that this soda debate has raged for years with no action.
The same rationale applies to why welfare recipients should have to pass a mandatory drug test before receiving benefits. If those reaping taxpayers' largesse don't like the criteria by which they must comply, that's fine. There's a very simple alternative. As “The Big Lebowski' says, “Condolences. The bums lost. My advice is to do what your parents did. Get a job!'
Food stamp recipients aren't the only ones opposed. The American Beverage Association has been whining that sugary drinks shouldn't be singled out, stating that obesity is “a complex health condition that affects Americans of all income levels.' Hey, diet soda doesn't contribute to obesity, but has no nutritional value, so it too should be banned from SNAP.
“Targeting struggling families who rely on (food stamps') vital safety net will not make America healthier or reduce government spending,' it also stated.
Fantastic. If only that made any sense. But it doesn't.
Soda isn't being singled out as the cause for obesity. Attempts have also been made to ban candy and other zero-nutrition items from the food stamp program, to no avail, so the beverage folks need to sit down and shut up on this one. It's not about soda. It's about taxpayer money being spent unwisely.
And for the record, reduced government spending has nothing to do with it. The cost of the food stamp program won't change because soda is banned. It just means people will have to use their gift card — and it is a gift card — on nutritional food.
Oh, and of course we're “targeting' families on food stamps, because we can. Whom else should we target? Free market consumers using their own money? Notwithstanding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's insane attempts to restrict soda portions, no one is doing that, nor should they. Sure, obesity is a national epidemic, and we are all paying for it at a skyrocketing rate, but you will never stop it with government bans. Personal responsibility, individual choices and suffering the consequences of bad decisions will, and should, rule the day.
But those things don't apply, or at least they shouldn't, when public assistance is involved.
Interestingly, some of the Right don't agree with the mayors' push, arguing that it is too paternalistic, too Big Brother for the government to tell people what they are permitted to buy. Others argue that such restrictions would discourage the needy from joining the program.
A.) If you don't apply for food stamp subsidies because you can't buy grape soda, great. Don't let the door hit you in your large posterior on the way out.
B.) So what if it's paternalistic? It obviously needs to be. You aren't permitted to buy alcohol or cigarettes (though some still do), and you shouldn't be hauling live lobsters home either. No one is saying you can't buy sugary drinks — you just shouldn't be able to do so with other people's money.
This will be a fascinating political development to watch, as it is Democrats imploring other Democrats to put in place what is ultimately a Republican idea.
Knocking back the sense of entitlement, instilling accountability into a government program, teaching personal responsibility, and even making people a little healthier. Hopefully, all it will take is a spoonful of sugar to make that medicine go down.