“Rich Men North of Richmond” Takes Aim at the Junk Food Lobby

Singer Oliver Anthony struck a chord with the American people through his out-of-nowhere smash hit, “Rich Men North of Richmond.” He also struck a blow to welfare expansion and sugar lobbies in D.C.

In case you still haven’t heard about it (and there aren’t many of you left), Anthony’s bluegrass ballad captured the attention of the nation by relying on the age-old recipe for success in country music – three chords and the truth.

But what truth? The corruption and greed of our nation’s elite circles was certainly a prominent theme in the song. But Anthony also sprinkled in a fully justified frustration with the rampant abuse of the food stamp program – a program funded by hard-working American taxpayers like him. America’s newest music sensation sang what most rational Americans think, that “taxes ought not to pay for your bags of fudge rounds.”

They ought not to, but American taxpayers are in fact buying fudge rounds, even for the obese. We are also buying soda, and candy, and energy drinks by the billions.

The food stamp program has exploded in cost. Why? The Biden administration gave a massive raise to those with a food stamp card, a move that was probably illegal.

During President Trump’s administration, the total cost of food stamps had actually decreased to $60 billion a year – a reflection of the fact that, due to a resurgent economy, many people once again became self-reliant and got off the program entirely. But in 2023 the cost of the program will have more than doubled, totaling close to $130 billion. It turns out that it does make a difference which “rich man north of Richmond” is in charge of the food stamp program.

What exactly does an extra $70 billion in food stamp money buy? Not exactly nutrition and nutrition alone. A lot of fudging fudge rounds. And even more soda.

Junk food being bought with food stamps isn’t just a clever lyric for a proud hillbilly crooner and ticked-off taxpayers. It is a not-so-sweet matter of fact.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, soda was the number one item purchased by people on food stamps. More than 5 percent of purchases by food stamp recipients were for “soft drinks.” Sweetened beverages, prepared desserts, and salty snacks were all among the top 10.

To be fair, “fudge round” specific data isn’t available, because the release of more specific information on how food stamps are used has been blocked by lawsuits from powerful junk food industry lobbyists.

But we do know that “snack cake – multi packs” are the 20th most common purchased item with food stamps. For people buying food with their own hard-earned money, fudge rounds and other “snack cake” purchases come in at 63rd.

Why hasn’t this outrageous waste been stopped? The short answer is: rich men north of Richmond.

Oliver Anthony probably wasn’t following Maine politics in 2017, but the state tried to ban the use of food stamps for junk food at the time. (Full disclosure, I helped with the effort.) The federal government in Washington denied that request.

Other similar requests have been rejected over the years, and there are very few limits to what can be purchased with food stamps.

Even polls conducted by left-wing outfits show that voters of every party agree there should be restrictions. So, who is it that doesn’t want to ban soda and candy from being bought with your tax dollars?

Another hard truth is that much of the blame lies with different rich men south of Richmond.

Coca-Cola does not want to see that sweet stream of food stamp money slow down. Neither does Pepsi. Or Little Debbie. Or Frito-Lay. Or Wal-Mart. Or Amazon. Or Dollar General. All southern corporations. All of them spending big bucks on lobbyists in Washington.

Coke and Pepsi alone spent $12 million lobbying to block food stamp changes during the Trump administration. They also partnered up with other junk food groups to funnel money to welfare expansion groups that advocated for more money for the food stamp program overall.

The sugar money worked. There are no junk food bans, and food stamps will cost $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

There is an opportunity this year for Congress to make changes to the food stamp program. But the signals seem to be that they won’t ban fudge rounds, energy drinks, or anything else.

Nonetheless, there is at least some momentum for reform, including leadership from Senator Marco Rubio on the issue.

If Congress won’t act, a future president could simply let states take action by approving their requests to stop allowing junk food purchases.

Hopefully those presidential hopefuls were asking around in Iowa while they were stumping for precious caucus votes. Most Iowa voters support banning junk food from being purchased with food stamps.

Anthony’s rise to fame came out of nowhere. Perhaps the number one hit song in the country can similarly spur some unexpected action to rid the food stamp program of its notorious junk food addiction.

 Sam Adolphsen is the policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability, and the former Chief Operating Officer for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services where he oversaw welfare eligibility and fraud investigations.

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