Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed this week that he and Gov. David Paterson have asked the federal government to place sugar-laden drinks on the list of foods that cannot be purchased with food stamps. The mayor, who also wants to ban smoking in outdoor public places where people gather, said he is taking this action because of the number of obese children in city public schools.
Food stamps already cannot be used to purchase cigarettes, alcohol or prepared hot foods. Bloomberg and Paterson claim that the more than 1.7 million New Yorkers on food stamps spend up to $130 million annually on sugary drinks. If the new rule is put in place, any drinks with more than 10 calories per 8 ounces will be removed from the list.
While we are certain they have the best of intentions, this is none of their business. Will the mayor ask for a ban on candy bars, potato chips or Twinkies? They also make kids fat. This is more intrusive than not allowing food stamps to be used to purchase beer. Few, if any, argue about that.
Inherent in this request is the thinking that people receiving food stamps are spending taxpayer dollars and the government has every right to tell them how that money should be spent. The governor and the mayor are looking down on food stamp recipients. They are certain they know best how food stamp dollars should be spent.
This kind of thinking is degrading. Some food stamp recipients have never worked and have no idea about nutrition. Others have been paying federal and state taxes for years and because of a disability or losing a job are now relying on food stamps. They are not “welfare bums” and do not want the advice of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or Paterson about what foods to purchase for their families.
We do not doubt that childhood obesity is a problem in New York City and throughout the nation. Sugary sodas certainly contribute to this problem. But the solution is not to create a nanny state that tramples on individual liberty. The mayor has no right to tell poor families what to drink any more than he has the right to dictate the menus in middle-class homes or the homes of billionaires.