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The decades-long debate over food stamps

On Saturday's show, Up host Chris Hayes and his guests discussed the politics of the Farm Bill.

On Saturday's show, Up host Chris Hayes and his guests discussed the politics of the Farm Bill. A version of the bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee would cut $16.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, over the next 10 years. Over the course of the discussion, Hayes and his guests examined the political influence of large food and beverage companies, and proposals in several states that would place more restrictions on what could be purchased with food stamps.

The debate over whether or not there should be more limits to what can be purchased with food stamps is not new. In fact, it’s a debate that’s been raging for decades. In 1964, during a debate over the Food Stamp Act, Senator Paul Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois, expressed concerns about allowing food stamp recipients to use their benefits to purchase soda:

I do not want to include Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola or any of that family. I like them myself, but I do not believe they should be permitted to be substitutes for milk. They are not valuable for the diet. They can be a waste of money especially for young people. Personally, I think it is a great mistake to include them. ...My suggestion is that the item which is included be not merely soft drinks, but carbonated soft drinks. That would exclude Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and all the varieties of the family of cola drinks. If we include them, this will be used as propaganda against an otherwise splendid and much needed measure. I want to help the poor and hungry and not sacrifice them for Coca-Cola. The Senator knows that these have no nutritional value—none at all.... Actually, they are bad for kids, rather than good for them. I hesitate to use such language, but the only benefit I can see in the present language is that it will increase the sales of the Coca-Cola and other cola and soft drink companies.


 Allison Koch (@allisonlkoch) is a segment producer for Up w/ Chris Hayes.