A new poll conducted by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) shows that the U.S. public broadly supports increasing or maintaining spending on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
Those same Americans, including a majority of people in the program, think it will be okay for the government to disallow purchasing sodas with taxpayer money. Given that the president carried the vote of everyone making under $50,000 while his opponent carried the middle class and the wealthy, Congress is expected to debate changes, including potential cuts, to SNAP and other components of federal nutrition policy in the coming months.
But with 15% of the country on the program, getting rid of it will be difficult. Supporters will claim it prevents hunger and poverty while critics see the increases as creating a class of voters dependent on government programs. Conservatives, however, seemed to be all for telling poor people what they could do with taxpayer money once they got it.
U.S. adults reported widespread support (77%) across all political parties and demographic groups for increased or maintained federal spending on SNAP. Americans also supported a range of policy proposals intended to help SNAP participants improve their diets, including:
It used to be that the stigma of being on food stamps encouraged people to get jobs - oddly, stigma is not the argument against removing sugary drinks from the program's list of permissible purchases. The self-esteem of poor people will be damaged if they can't buy Pepsi with food stamps.
This is the first nationally representative poll to ask SNAP participants' how much they support the policy they benefit from - and they were okay without soda, if they got more money. The researchers found that a majority of SNAP participants (54%) who responded to this survey supported removing sugary drinks from SNAP benefits. Of the 46% of SNAP participants who when initially asked did not support removing sugary drinks, almost half (45%) subsequently supported removing sugary drinks when asked if they would support the policy if it also included additional benefits to purchase healthful foods.
The study's data were gathered from a nationally-representative random-digit-dialed landline telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive between April 12 and April 22, 2012. The survey garnered responses from 3,024 adults, 418 of whom reported that their household had received SNAP benefits in the previous 12 months.
"The breadth of support for continued or increased funding for SNAP is gratifying; Americans really do want to extend a helping hand to those who are having difficulty putting food on their table," said Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and the paper's senior author. "However, the findings also clearly show that Americans want to do this in a way that supports, not undermines, the health of SNAP recipients, many of whom are children. The SNAP program clearly needs a tune-up to be sure that limited government resources are spent wisely."