AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Republican governor is still pressing for his proposal to prevent the use of food stamps for junk food and planned to bring it up this week in Washington.
Gov. Paul LePage, who was attending a holiday party this week in Washington, D.C., blames powerful opposition from the food and beverage industries for resistance to his proposal, which federal officials are reviewing.
“We have an obesity problem, we have a Type 2 diabetes problem with our youth, and the federal government will not allow me to take soft drinks and chocolate bars and candy off the SNAP list,” LePage said, referring to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “Why? The sugar lobby.”
LePage had hoped a new presidential administration would listen. Federal officials earlier this year requested more details on the administration’s proposal.
Last year, LePage threatened to cease the state’s food stamp program altogether after the U.S. Department of Agriculture first raised questions about cost estimates and other details on the ban’s impact.
At the time, LePage said he was not “naive enough to think” federal officials would ever be satisfied, and the state didn’t respond. But the LePage administration planned to respond to the USDA’s latest questions.
The federal agency didn’t respond to request for comment.
Critics have said that the government shouldn’t be dictating what people put in their grocery carts — and that the governor’s plan wouldn’t change poor people’s eating habits.
In 2011, former President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration rejected then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s soda ban for food stamp recipients.
Maine’s renewed request also asks to divert federal funds away from nutrition education — which amounted to $4.3 million last fiscal year — and instead spend that money on studying the ban and on agencies that distribute healthy foods.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has signaled support for overhauling the more than $70 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which administers food stamps to 44 million recipients.
Perdue previously said LePage “has some very creative programs” that were worthy of exploring.