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Governor’s Address: Preventing the purchase of soda, candy with SNAP is crucial to the health of Mainers

Obesity is a problem in our nation, and it’s a problem in Maine. But the USDA refuses to prohibit the purchase of soda and candy with food stamps.

Maine has twice requested a waiver to exclude sugar-sweetened beverages and candy from purchase with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which are still referred to as food stamps.

The Obama Administration denied the first waiver, and now the U.S. Department of Agriculture has denied the second request under the Trump Administration.

This is extremely disappointing because Maine, like other states, is experiencing a health epidemic of obesity and other chronic illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, resulting from the consumption of foods with high sugar content.

In 1990, the obesity rate in Maine was 10 percent. By 2016, Maine’s obesity rate tripled to 30 percent.

This waiver is imperative to improving the health of our population, particularly those SNAP recipients who are already challenged in their access to healthy foods by tight budgets.

This waiver would align Maine’s SNAP program with allowable healthy foods under federally funded programs for school breakfasts and lunches, as well as the Women Infant and Children’s program. It would reinforce the crucial message of eating healthy both in schools and at home.

It would also align with other USDA bans on purchases of other, less-nutritious food items.

Several other states have requested similar waivers, but all have been denied. The denials are based on USDA’s concerns about implementation of the waiver requests. But Maine has thoroughly addressed these concerns.

Implementing the waiver would be much easier than USDA contends, especially since Maine already taxes foods identified as having little or no nutritional value. This would make it easier for retailers to identify the banned items.

Of course, the sugar lobby and the agriculture industry, which makes corn syrup, is against this. However, when we could no longer deny that smoking was causing suffering and early death for millions of people, the government finally stood up to Big Tobacco and did the right thing.

The time has come to stand up to big sugar and ensure our federal dollars are supporting healthy food choices for our neediest people.

Maine’s obesity rate is the heaviest in New England. More than 13 percent of our population use SNAP benefits.

Making these changes would not only help our state improve the health of these families, but would also have lasting effects by helping the children in these families grow up making better food choices.

It would lay the foundation for life-long health benefits. Now is the time to let states do the right thing.

The health of our people depends on it.

Thank you,

Paul LePage


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