Let SNAP recipients buy toilet paper and toothpaste

By The Republican Journal Editorial Board | Mar 11, 2021

Imagine yourself in the grocery store. You visit the produce section, the canned foods, dairy and so forth. Then you head for the toilet paper aisle and select a 12-pack of your preferred brand. Or you go to the health and beauty section to pick up some toothpaste and feminine hygiene products.

But not if you depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps. These benefits, essential to many Mainers in order to provide for their families, may not be used to pay for any nonfood items, so toilet paper, toothpaste and tampons cannot be purchased with them.

That is why we support a Joint Resolution introduced by Knox County Sen. Dave Miramant, D-Camden, and co-sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, that asks the federal Department of Agriculture to change its rules for SNAP to allow recipients to purchase these nonfood essentials with their benefits.

LR 855 asks the Agriculture Department to "amend the stated goal of SNAP to 'raising the level of nutrition and essential-need stability among low-income households and maintaining adequate levels of nutrition and non-food essentials supplies by increasing the food and nonfood essentials purchasing power of low-income families,'" and also to "expand the scope of SNAP benefits to include the following nonfood essentials for recipient purchase: toilet paper, soap, deodorant, toothpaste and menstrual products, including but not limited to tampons, pads, liners and reusable cups, underwear and shields."

Mainers, whether they are elderly and living on a small fixed income, single parents or couples trying to balance working and raising children in the midst of a pandemic, have, as the Joint Resolution puts it, "essential needs beyond food and should therefore be granted the dignity to select how to expend their SNAP benefits based upon their essential needs."

Furthermore, as the resolution points out, it is a matter of health as well as personal dignity for people to have access to items such as toilet paper, toothpaste and menstrual products, and lacking these things may prevent them from seeking and finding work or participating in other activities.

Being able to buy these nonfood essentials is something most of us take for granted. Even when there is a shortage of these products, we generally find some way to get what we need. But for some of our neighbors, these things are luxuries. They purchase toilet paper one roll at a time, the most expensive way to buy it, because at the moment of need, it takes the smallest amount out of their pocket. And woe to the family on SNAP with several girls over the age of 10. They may have to choose between feminine hygiene products and food.

We do not believe anyone should have to make choices like that. We thank the legislators who have introduced LR855 and hope our federal legislators and the Department of Agriculture will speedily enact the changes it urges.

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