New Changes to SNAP Benefits Could Allow States to Restrict Purchases of Soda and Candy

New Changes to SNAP Benefits Could Allow States to Restrict Purchases of Soda and Candy

The USDA announced last week that it would be making major changes to SNAP benefits (also known as food stamps), including the possibility for states to restrict beneficiaries’ purchases of soda and candy. Another proposed change would allow the purchase of only foods from a pre-approved list.

These changes come from a proposal made by the Secretaries Innovation Group (SIG), which met with senior USDA officials including Brandon Lipps, the official in charge of SNAP, last Tuesday. In a news release published following the meeting, USDA noted that SNAP would be operating with “increased cooperation with states,” echoing a letter Lipp wrote to state SNAP commissioners last month.

“We believe states are laboratories of innovation and seek to learn from you what works and what does not,” Lipps wrote. “As necessary to address each of these focus areas, we will allow greater state flexibility in areas that do not increase costs to taxpayers or our various partners on the ground.”

The release notes that “specifics on such flexibilities” would be communicated at a later date.

Such changes, if enacted, would be a “major break” from USDA’s previous responses to requests to restrict SNAP benefits on a state-by-state or region-by-region basis. Maine, Minnesota, and New York City have previously requested rules limiting what beneficiaries can purchase with SNAP benefits to encourage the consumption of healthier foods, but USDA has always refused.

Lipps declined to comment on whether all of USDA’s changes to SNAP benefits would respond to SIG’s 14 specific policy changes, including requiring SNAP candidates to apply for benefits in person and allowing states to reduce payments to some groups, including the citizen children of undocumented immigrants. However, Jason Turner, SIG’s executive director, indicated that Lipp conveyed that changes would “line up closely” during their meeting, reports the Washington Post.

Many advocates in the fight against hunger disagree with these proposals.

“The whole idea is to layer on stigmatizing complexities that make it more difficult to apply for the program and to use benefits,” Stacy Dean, the vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the Washington Post. “It’s wildly out of sync with what states have fought for in the past.”

These changes would be separate from possible changes made to the Farm Bill, which governs the SNAP program, during Congress’ reauthorization of this legislation next year.

SNAP is a $73 billion program that provides an average $125 per person per month to 42 million Americans.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco