Michael Bloomberg wants to keep poor New Yorkers from buying soda:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought federal permission on Wednesday to bar New York City’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamps from using them to buy soda or other sugared drinks. [...]
The mayor requested a ban for two years to study whether it would have a positive impact on health and whether a permanent ban would be merited.
“In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground — obesity and diabetes,” the mayor said in a statement. “This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.”
As a liberal, I’m obviously not opposed to paternalism in the service of public-health goals. Indeed, it’s true that the food-stamp program already prohibits the use of benefits to buy cigarettes, beer, wine, liquor, or prepared foods. But I do feel uneasy about this particular instance of paternalism; poor New Yorkers aren’t the only ones buying soda, and there’s a lot more to preventing obesity and diabetes among poor people than restricting their intake of sugary drinks. Moreover, my guess is that most poor New Yorkers spend their food stamps on items that will make a meal, not soda. Whether Bloomberg realizes it or not, this effort perpetuates the myth of poor people -- and poor minorities, especially -- as fundamentally irresponsible with their income.
That said, I’m not well-versed in New York public opinion, but my guess is that few New Yorkers will oppose this measure; generally, Americans believe that you shouldn’t be allowed to experience “pleasure” -- even in the form of a sugary beverage -- if you’re low-income and receive government benefits. As Bill Clinton showed us during the era of welfare reform, wagging your finger and telling poor people to “be responsible” plays well with everyone, even liberal urbanites.
-- Jamelle Bouie