A local state senator is entering the battle against Californians' burgeoning waistlines with a bill that would forbid residents from using food stamps to buy sugary drinks like sodas.
State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, introduced the bill last week. It would require the state Department of Social Services to request federal approval to prohibit CalFresh participants from using their benefits to purchase "sweetened beverages" that pack more than 10 calories per a cup.
A 16-ounce bottle of regular Coca Cola or Pepsi, the equivalent of two cups, has 200 calories, according to nutrition information on the companies' websites.
The ban would not apply to "juice without added sugar, milk products and milk substitutes, even if sweetened," the text of the bill said.
CalFresh is the state program for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Kern County has about 58,000 CalFresh cases, which represent 140,400 people, most of whom are children, according to the Kern County Department of Human Services.
A fact sheet from Rubio's office argued that the government should subsidize drinks that "have no nutritional value and directly contribute to obesity and tooth decay that cost billions of dollars in health care costs."
"We should focus our limited resources on paying for what individuals need, not what they want," the fact sheet said.
Lorna Speight, a dietician and administrative coordinator for Community Action Partnership of Kern's WIC program, said the bill could be an important step in fighting obesity and fits with SNAP's goal of improving nutrition among low-income people.
She said an educational component is also key to helping people understand why they should make healthy choices.
"My thought is this (bill) is just one step toward decreasing obesity because it's not going to solve the whole issue," she said.
The bill wasn't well-received by others, including Bakersfield resident Myna Stewart. She was livid about the bill's proposition after learning about it Monday evening.
"It makes me so mad because, I know this is crazy, but I feel like the government is trying to take control of so much stuff from us," she said. "If (lawmakers) need to force (CalFresh recipients') hand so they don't eat badly, then force my hand, too."
Stewart said she understands why people can't buy tobacco or alcohol with their CalFresh benefits but preventing them for drinking the soda they want to is "wrong."
While Stewart felt that the bill picks on people who receive CalFresh, Bob Achermann, executive director for the California/Nevada Soft Drink Association, said the bill targets sodas.
Achermann said his group doesn't besmirch Rubio's intention but a more balanced approach, including exercise and diet, is needed to combat obesity.
"Addressing obesity is about more than just singling out soft drinks," he said.
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