Monday, March 10, 2014
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In other words, when it comes to the estimated 250,000 Mainers (just under 19 percent of the state's population) now enrolled in the SNAP program, something so simple as declaring soda off-limits is infinitely easier said than done.
"The problem we have with this is that it singles out one particular product," said Newell Augur, who lobbies in Augusta for the Maine Beverage Association. "If the idea is about making folks healthier and reducing obesity, then it should be a more comprehensive approach."
Meaning Maine's soft-drink peddlers wouldn't object if candy, potato chips and other non-nutritious waist wideners also were declared off limits for SNAP purchases?
"Put it this way," Augur replied. "We'd have a much harder time opposing it."
Even that might not matter: Should the Legislature actually pass LePage's proposal, Maine will need a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture before it can cross anything off its SNAP shopping list.
And how often has the USDA granted such waivers?
"The only experience (other states have) is with the federal government refusing," said Simon. "They have yet to grant a waiver."
Nor, observed Simon, have sporadic efforts in Congress to make the USDA more waiver-friendly gained any traction in recent years.
"The fact is that there's this huge food lobby that currently benefits (from SNAP's you-crave-it-you-buy-it policy) to the tune of billions and billions of dollars a year," said Simon. "That's what we should really be looking at." Translation: If you think the lobbying against SNAP reform is intense at the state level, imagine the stakes when the debate shifts to Washington, D.C.
So why bother?
LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett noted last week that while there are obvious "hurdles to overcome," this is still a battle worth waging.
"We wouldn't be putting something forward if we didn't think it was going to have a positive effect," said Bennett.
Imagine that: Gov. Paul LePage is about to lock horns with a well-heeled business lobby over a bill that, if passed, will undoubtedly improve the health of low-income Mainers.
Let's hope it's habit forming.
Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: