GOP Bill Aims To Ban Food Stamps For Steak And Lobster In New York

The battle over poor people's diets isn't going away.
New York state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R) doesn't want food stamp recipients spending government money on food she considers
New York state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R) doesn't want food stamp recipients spending government money on food she considers extravagant or unhealthy.

A state senator in New York wants to stop food stamp recipients from using their benefits on lobster, steak and candy bars.

"Many of these items aren’t just unhealthy," state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R) said in a press release announcing her legislation this week. "They’re also expensive."

Conservatives have always complained about what poor people buy with their food stamps, but Ritchie's bill shows that a new surge of legislative efforts to restrict food options -- including bills in Maine, Wisconsin and the U.S. Congress last year -- hasn't subsided.

Even the Obama administration wants to nudge food stamp recipients toward healthier options, announcing this week that some stores will have to stock healthier food options if they want to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. A lobbying group for convenience stores complained that if stores are kicked off SNAP for failing to stock enough healthy options, poor people will suffer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, isn't hearing it.

"If you’re receiving billions of dollars as an industry in taxpayer funds, it’s only just that there is an expectation that there is an adequate supply of a variety of foods, period," the USDA's Kevin Concannon told Politico on Wednesday.

If adopted after a review period, the new rule would require stores to carry seven varieties of staple foods like bread and meat, as well as more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Roughly 45 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, which can be used for any type of food except booze or hot prepared meals. The latest research shows that SNAP recipients' diets are only marginally less healthy than the diets of people who don't receive benefits.  

A major obstacle for Ritchie's bill is that federal law doesn't allow states to set restrictions on what people can buy with SNAP benefits. If states keep pushing, however, Republicans in Congress will listen. A top lawmaker is currently pushing to change federal law to allow states to drug-test SNAP recipients after the USDA has swatted away previous state efforts. 

Arthur Delaney is a co-host of "So That Happened," the HuffPost Politics podcast.