February 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

Missouri Might Pay SNAP Recipients To Eat Their Veggies

It isn’t often that policy changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps – are positive developments, which is why a proposed Missouri bill to reimburse recipients for purchasing healthy food is so stunning.

In recent months, SNAP has gotten a number of bad blows. From the expiration of temporary stimulus funds to additional cuts through the recently passed Farm Bill, beneficiaries of this critical anti-poverty program have too often been the casualties of deficit reduction efforts. Against this backdrop of austerity for the poor (and, in the case of the farm bill, stimulus for the rich), Missouri is actively trying to do something positive. Imagine that!

(Credit: J. Stephen Conn)

(Credit: J. Stephen Conn)

On February 24, a Missouri House panel heard testimony for a bill that would reimburse SNAP recipients up to $10 per week for purchasing fruits and vegetables. According to local media reports, no opposition was heard – at least for now.

The lack of opposition is a great sign, because this bill is just straight up good economics. Here are some reasons why:

Primarily, it alters people’s spending habits in a way that benefits their health. By providing an additional subsidy for using SNAP benefits for fruits and vegetables, the price of those goods relative to other, unhealthy options is reduced. I think we can all agree that a bell pepper is better for you than a bag of Cheetos, and this bill would go a long way in making buying the bell pepper lucrative for both health and financial reasons.

Another way the bill makes sense – conservatives, listen up – is that, in the long run, it could help reduce spending in other government programs. Since SNAP recipients are low-income earners, they are also more likely to take advantage of programs like Medicaid. It’s a well-known fact that there is an obesity epidemic among the poor in America, which puts great strain on public health costs. The additional spending on SNAP through the bill’s subsidy could very easily be offset by reduced health costs. Remember: prevention is always cheaper than treatment!

The final reason that this bill is good economics is something that I’ve argued here repeatedly – additional spending on SNAP is a net contributor to economy, particularly when labor markets are slack. Even if the $10 per week subsidy isn’t offset by a reduction of spending elsewhere, it still makes sense because of the additional economic growth and job creation that would result.

So we’ve now improved the health of low-income individuals, reduced the strain on government health care funds, and helped the broader economy. No wonder no one has spoken out in opposition (fingers crossed). Now if we could just get this implemented nationwide…

-Albert Kleine