Marco Rubio, a Republican Florida senator, called on Congress Tuesday to reform the Supplemental Food Assistance Program in order to “explicitly” exclude junk food and sugary drinks to reduce the obesity epidemic and medical costs.
Rubio, in an op-ed piece published by the Wall Street Journal this week, announced his intention to introduce legislation to encourage those receiving federal SNAP benefits to purchase more nutritious food.
His bill will no longer allow prepared desserts and sodas to qualify for SNAP. The federal benefits program would instead promote healthier options, such as milk, pure juice, oatmeal, protein, fruits, and vegetables.
According to a 2016 United States Department of Agriculture report, in SNAP households, “20 cents out of every dollar was spent on sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.” Only 40 cents of every dollar went towards items such as meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread.
Rubio wrote that taxpayers are expected to spend more than $240 billion over the next ten years on junk food. Of this, $60 billion will be spent exclusively on soda.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) data showed that over 40% of Americans are obese and approximately half have diabetes or pre-diabetes.
“These diseases can be debilitating. They are also extremely expensive, costing hundreds of billions of dollars in medical costs each year. That SNAP plays a role in their spread is immoral, irresponsible, and reprehensible,” he continued.
Rubio’s bill will provide “common sense” reforms to the SNAP Program “at no extra cost and in the end, reduce medical costs,” he wrote.
Senator Rubio argued that if sugary drinks and junk food were removed from the SNAP program, then stores would be encouraged to stock healthier alternatives for their customers. Rubio stated that the proposed legislation was nonpartisan and that it is an issue that is not partisan. He also noted that former Agriculture Secretaries of the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama Administrations believe that “ignoring nutrition literally kills a thousand Americans each day.”
Rubio said he will work with Tom Vilsack, one of these former secretaries, to reform SNAP benefits. Vilsack advised lawmakers to “officially” make diet quality a core SNAP goal in 2018.
As with all things in Washington, there are opponents to this proposal. Rubio said that spending taxpayer money on empty calories, which contribute to health problems, is neither compassionate nor responsible.