The Atlanta, Ga.-based Coca-Cola Corporation is being accused of being “subsidized” by American taxpayers. And in Idaho, authorities say that there’s not much that can be done to stop the “subsidization.”
“According to estimates, American taxpayers subsidize the purchase of about $4 billion worth of soda annually,” writes David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
The food stamp program to which he refers provides financial assistance for low income people for the purchase of food products. Created by Congress and President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, the benefit program is funded with federal tax dollars and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The benefits are then distributed by individual state governments, with both state and federal revenues used to fund the distribution systems.
Almasi is an individual stockholder of the company, and in a prepared statement delivered to the Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent at the company’s recent shareholder meeting, he said that “in America today, a record 47 million Americans receive government handouts through the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Most people see this as a tragedy; apparently Coca-Cola sees it as a business opportunity. What a shame.”
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW), the state agency that administers the food stamp program in Idaho, Almasi’s concerns are not without merit.
“Food stamp benefits are paid entirely by the federal government, so federal authorities control the foods that can be purchased with that funding,” said Niki Forbing-Orr, spokesperson for DHW. She also told IdahoReporter.com that food stamps can be used to purchase food products that are of little or no nutritional value, including candy, soda and chips.
“Many states, including Idaho, have questioned the federal government about limiting foods purchased through SNAP to healthy choices, but have been unsuccessful,” noted Forbing-Orr.
According to Forbing-Orr, there is little that the state of Idaho can do about how food stamp resources are spent.
But at least one state senator, Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, during the 2013 legislative session expressed her preference that food stamps should be used for nutritious food choices, not for junk food. She believes there is a correlation between the purchase and consumption of unhealthy junk foods and the rising costs of Medicaid services.
While debating a bill to spread out food stamp distribution during the month instead of on the first day of each month, Lodge said “We need a committee that is willing to keep emotions out of this, and find ways to help people stretch their food dollars. The food stamp program is supposed to be supplemental nutrition, and we need to get people to stop buying cookies, energy drinks, soft drinks and such. We need to encourage them to buy potatoes instead of a bag of potato chips.”
Continued Lodge: “Simply issuing food stamps for 10 days instead of one doesn’t ensure that people are stretching their food budgets in nutritious ways.” The expanded distribution proposal failed.
Almasi accuses Coca-Cola of blocking efforts to reform the food stamp program to limit the amount of “sugary drink” purchases that benefits recipients can make with the federal subsidy.
“I have no problem with anyone drinking as much soda as they want,” Almasi said. “But taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize these lifestyle choices, and large companies such as Coca-Cola should not lobby federal and state governments to ensure ever more taxpayer dollars flow towards sugary sodas.”
For his part Almasi questions why Coca-Cola lobbies to sustain the sale of soda drinks to food stamps recipients, and not healthier products. “Our company sells a myriad of healthier drink options. From Minute Maid juices, to Odwalla beverages to Simply Orange unsweetened juice. Coca-Cola offers many products that promote a healthy lifestyle,” he noted in his statement.
Almasi told IdahoReporter.com that the National Center for Public Policy Research is examining other food and beverage companies to see if there are patterns of behavior similar to those of Coca-Cola.