AUGUSTA, Maine -- Maine resident Zak McCutcheon says he likes soda but acknowledges he'd drink less of it if his governor convinced Republican President Donald Trump to put restrictions on the approximately $200 a month he receives in food stamps. He thinks it may even make recipients healthier and less overweight.
"If I was more restricted to what I could buy, I would become more of a veggie eater," said McCutcheon, who recently perused grapes and packages of pre-chopped vegetables at an Augusta food bank with his pregnant girlfriend.
But another one of Maine's 180,000 food stamp recipients, Samantha Watson, said she believes a ban from using food stamps on soda and candy won't make low-income people any healthier. It would take more than that to change eating habits, she said, since food stamps cover only a fraction of the monthly grocery bill for herself and her 3-year-old daughter.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage and fellow Republicans in two other states are now renewing their efforts to restrict food stamps in the hopes that Trump will be more amenable than the previous administration.
In 2011, former Democratic President Barack Obama's administration rejected then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's soda ban for food stamp recipients and in June, he raised "significant" concerns with LePage's proposal, saying there'd be no meaningful way to evaluate whether the ban changed the way recipients bought sweets.
While Trump's budget proposal doesn't include food stamp changes, his choice for secretary of agriculture, Sonny Perdue, of Georgia, has signaled support for overhauling the $71 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which administers food stamps to 44 million recipients.
LePage is optimistic the new administration will approve his revived proposal, which he says is backed by common sense and a desire to reduce high rates of obesity and diabetes.
The governor's efforts in Maine have inspired legislators in Tennessee and Arkansas, who say they won't give up trying to restrict food stamp purchases.
"We don't allow people to buy alcohol and cigarettes with welfare dollars, why should we allow people to buy junk food that leads to just as many health problems?'" said Tennessee Rep. Sheila Butt, a Republican, who hopes Trump will give states more power over the state-run SNAP program.