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A Missouri Republican wants to stop people from buying steak or seafood with food stamps

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Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images

In the ongoing moral panic over what poor people choose to spend their resources on, Missouri Republican Rick Brattin has introduced a bill to the state legislature that would prevent anyone from using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits "to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak."

Roberto Ferdman writes this up at the Post by noting that seafood is extremely healthy to try to debunk the health-shaming aspect of this plan. But I would say the deeper issue is that these efforts to restrict what people can buy with SNAP benefits just serve to create a pointless downward spiral of benefit cuts.

After all, suppose you're a poor SNAP-eligible mom who really wants to get some cookies to make her kids happy. Today, you handle that by going to the grocery store to buy some cookies. When we ban the use of SNAP benefits for cookie purchases, she's likely going to find herself in the parking lot trying to find someone who'll trade her some cookies for a few gallons of milk (or whatever).

Human beings are pretty resourceful, and while a cookie ban will certainly annoy lots of poor families and make their lives worse, it's unlikely to materially impact cookie consumption or improve public health.

What it will do is increase the amount of food stamp fraud, giving politicians more opportunity to complain about food stamp fraud and to cite food stamp fraud as a reason to cut the program.

The best idea would be to do the opposite of this plan. Give poor people money instead of food stamps. Money that they could use to buy food if that's what the family needs, but that could also pay for a new pair of socks or rent on an apartment that's a much easier commute or bus fare or whatever it is that the family needs. Then we could have an honest debate about how much money we want to spend on making poor people's lives easier, without a lot of red herrings about steak dinners.

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