Spotlight Exclusives

BPC Task Force Targets Sugar-Sweetened Drinks in SNAP

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

A task force launched last year by the Bipartisan Policy Center has released a series of suggested reforms for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including a potentially controversial recommendation to eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages from the items that can be purchased with SNAP benefits.

The report, Leading With Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health, is the result of a year-long process co-chaired by former Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist, former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, and Ann M. Veneman, another former Agriculture Secretary.

“America is facing an obesity crisis and … a healthcare crisis,” Frist said Monday at a release event for the report, stressing that the main goal of the 13-member task force was to suggest ways that SNAP can be used to promote better nutrition. But Frist said the panel believed that if its recommendations were adopted as a package, the subsequent improvements to nutrition “could lead to reduced health care costs.”

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, argued that SNAP “is not just an anti-hunger program. It’s an anti-poverty program.” Panetta said that for recipients, SNAP “is not just about putting food in their stomachs; it’s about putting knowledge in their heads and confidence in their hearts.”

The report contains four major recommendations:

  • Prioritize nutrition in SNAP, including eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages from the items that can be purchased and making diet quality a core SNAP objective;
  • Strengthen SNAP education;
  • Align SNAP and Medicaid to improve nutrition and diet-related outcomes; and
  • Coordinate federal and state agencies and programs related to food and nutrition.

Glickman and Veneman acknowledged that the ban on sugar-sweetened beverages would be politically combustible and was unlikely to gain traction in current negotiations on the Farm Bill, of which SNAP is a component. But Glickman said he hoped the report would at least begin a conversation on that topic and that bipartisan agreement could be found on reforms such as increased incentives for good nutrition within SNAP and more coordination with Medicaid.

The two former Agriculture secretaries—Glickman a Democrat, Veneman a Republican—also found common ground in criticizing the Trump administration’s proposal to cut SNAP by $200 billion over 10 years and make up some of the difference by giving recipients a box of nonperishable goods—dubbed a “Blue Apron-type program” by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

Veneman said such a program would be all-but-impossible for states to administer and that if the administration is serious about it, it should be piloted in one or two states first “to show if it would work.”

Glickman’s appraisal was more direct: “It’s one of the worst ideas I’ve heard of in modern times.”

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