Departing from the wellness chorus-you know, those concerned with improving the health of those unable to manage their lives without assistance from their betters-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has come out publicly questioning the Bloomberg effort to ban the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda: "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a longtime advocate for policies that encourage better eating habits, is not jumping on board the effort by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson to bar low-income people in New York City from using food stamps to purchase soda and other sugary drinks. Asked in an interview whether she thought the proposal was a good one, the senator said: "I think giving parents and families the tools they need to make the right choices is a better approach."
What a radical concept-empowering people to make better choices; rather than coercing them and treating them like children: "Ms. Gillibrand's efforts to date have largely centered around encouraging good eating and exercise habits, particularly among children. The food-stamps proposal would be a more direct approach, and one aimed more at adult behavior than that of children."
Her opposition is significant because of her committee membership in the senate: "Also, she sits on the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over the agency that will decide whether to grant the sugary drinks request." So the mayor's ask of the FDA, as we have pointed out, may be subject to congressional approval.
But opposition to the latest Bloomberg effort to tell people how they should live is being enlivened by an unusual suspect-Joel Berg of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger. City Hall Newspaper has the story: "He expressed the irony he sees in a mayor who fought to bring Snapple into the schools now leading the charge against sugary drinks. The persistent subtext, he said, is a callousness to the poor. “The left and the right are uniting around the one thing that they always unite around as elites, which is telling poor people what to do,” Berg said."
Another voice added against Mother Bloomberg Knows Best-and the coalition may soon be growing larger: "For the Beverage Association and its lobbyists, beating back the proposal that Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson have submitted to the USDA is for the moment not so much about behind-the-scenes conversations with the small group of decision makers in Washington as trying to construct a public relations nightmare for the Bloomberg administration."
This nascent coalition needs to include small business and labor-because the assault on soda sales will have repercussions at the cash registers of strapped local supermarkets, green grocers and bodegas. Hurting neighborhood business is not good for public health-especially when so many stores have been forced out of business by the mayor's tax and regulatory policies. Let's not forget that high taxes and bottle deposits send many New Yorkers out of state to purchase their goods-and the food stamp ban is another added obstacle to small neighborhood food stores.
Let's hope that Senator Gillibrand sticks to her current position on this issue; her initial skepticism is not only warranted, but politically savvy-as the WSJ notes: "Both senators are Democrats running for election this year amid complaints from Republicans that the Democratic-controlled Congress is too intrusive in the life of everyday Americans, from taxes to health care to business regulation. A crackdown on soda consumption could further fuel that criticism. Ms. Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate last year by Mr. Paterson to the seat vacated when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state."
Bloomberg argues that this is a two year pilot program-but what exactly could be gleaned from this human experiment? "The proposed change would be a two-year trial, during which the city would study the impact and whether it was improving the eating habits of food-stamp recipients."
And, like what was found with menu labeling, the end results were much different from what the Bloombergistas had initially argued-but there has been no thought from these health mavens to repeal their futile reg that is costing fast food franchises thousands of dollars in compliance costs. Once instituted, the regulation, or the ban, or the tax, or, whatever, is immutable-and more fodder for the city's legion of inspectors to swoop down on store owners, ticket book in hand.
Mike Bloomberg has already established himself as one of the most hostile chief executives for small business in the city's history; and his intrusions into the day-to-day lives of New Yorkers threatens both their liberty and the stores that they need for the viability of the neighborhoods that they live in. It's time for people to tell him to just butt out.