For nearly sixty years, there has been widespread debate over what food items should be eligible for purchase with SNAP (food stamps) benefits. Although the House of Representatives voted to prohibit using food coupons to purchase soft drinks and luxury foods, the final version of the 1964 Food Stamp Act did not contain those restrictions. Since then, there have been numerous efforts to ban foods considered unhealthy, including soft drinks, snack foods, and candy. All such efforts have been unsuccessful, including because some believe that it is inappropriate for the government to tell people (including SNAP beneficiaries) what they can and cannot eat.
While efforts to modify what constitutes SNAP-eligible foods will likely continue during upcoming Farm Bill hearings, Republican state legislators in Iowa have introduced a bill that would severely restrict what foods would be eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. Section 15 of Iowa File 3 seeks to require the state Department of Human Services to seek a waiver from USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) that would permit the state to limit SNAP purchases only to those foods listed on the Iowa WIC Approved Foods List. Unlike SNAP-eligible foods, which are generally all foods other than hot food, alcohol, and tobacco, WIC-eligible foods are extremely limited. For example, WIC beneficiaries in Iowa can only purchase cereal, whole wheat bread, brown rice, corn and whole wheat tortillas, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta, certain canned and dried beans, peanut butter, canned tuna and salmon, certain 100% juices, fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and milk alternatives, eggs, cheese, tofu, yogurt, infant formula, and baby food.
Under this misguided legislative effort, a wide variety of staple food items would be prohibited including pork, beef, and chicken. Additionally, water, flour, sugar, spices, coffee, tea, all soft drinks, cookies, candy, chips, and other snack foods would also be ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. On a positive note, even if legislators in the Hawkeye State pass this bill and it’s signed into law by Governor Reynolds, there is virtually no chance that FNS will approve a waiver.
7 C.F.R. § 272.3(c) contains the criteria governing SNAP waiver requests. To obtain a waiver, states must demonstrate that extraordinary temporary situations involving increased caseloads, that the requested waiver would result in the program being more effectively and efficiently administered, or unique conditions preclude the effective implementation of specific regulatory provisions. None of these conditions currently exist in Iowa. Additionally, FNS lacks authority to grant a waiver if it would be inconsistent with the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008. Without question, Iowa File 3 is inconsistent with the statutory definition of “food.” Moreover, Secretary Vilsack, Acting Under Secretary Dean, and FNS Administrator Long are all appointees of President Joe Biden. It is unfathomable that these Democratic appointees would consider restricting the rights of Iowans who receive supplemental nutrition benefits in that way. Iowa File 3 will also likely be opposed by a wide variety of entities that normally do not agree on political issues: retailer associations, anti-hunger organizations, food manufacturers, pork, poultry, and beef producers, as well as Libertarians (who are generally opposed to action by the “Nanny State”) are all expected to lobby against this ludicrous bill. Hopefully, common sense in the Hawkeye State will prevail, and Iowa File 3 will be withdrawn.