Government in the Grocery Cart: $15 Billion to Influence Consumer Behavior

November 27, 2011

WasteWatcher, November, 2011

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is wrought with onerous mandates, tax increases, Medicare cuts, unfunded Medicaid expansions, and numerous budgetary gimmicks. One egregious provision in the PPACA included $500 million in FY 2010 for the Prevention and Public Health Fund. On February 9, 2011, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced an additional $750 million “investment” for FY 2011 in the Prevention and Public Health Fund.  These new dollars will “help prevent tobacco use, obesity, heart disease, stroke, and cancer; increase immunizations; and empower individuals and communities with tools and resources for local prevention and health initiatives.”

Funding for this program is scheduled to increase to $1 billion in FY 2012, $1.25 billion in FY 2013, $1.5 billion in 2014, and $2 billion in 2015 and into the foreseeable future. In all, more than $15 billion over the next decade will be squandered on this ridiculous nanny-state program.

This slush fund has doled out money in the form of “Community Transformation Grants” (CTG) through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund “prevention, wellness, and public health activities.” According to the CDC, approximately $103 million in prevention funding has already been awarded to 61 states and communities impacting 120 million Americans.

The CTG program, along with its predecessor, the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative that received $650 million in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, supports efforts to modify behavior through anti-obesity campaigns, as well as anti-smoking and pro-sin tax regulations and legislation. CTGs provide direct funding to cities and states for the advocacy and implementation of laws and regulations on “unhealthy” products such as soda, cigarettes and even whole milk.

Tax dollars are currently being spent to implement counter-advertising for “unhealthy” choices; limit the availability and placement of “unhealthy” foods and drinks such as sugar-sweetened beverages, high-fat snacks and whole milk; restrict the number of fast food restaurants per square mile; make “unhealthy” food less available in schools; increase excess dietary sodium awareness; create signage for “healthy” versus “less healthy” food products; lobby state and local governments for increased prices and taxes on tobacco products; and impose price controls on “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods.

Previous awards have included:

  • $4.9 million in Florida to assign nutrition and physical activity consultants to child care centers and restaurants to promote healthy behaviors and limit unhealthy food choices, and develop a media-buy strategy to promote active behaviors and healthy eating.
  • $3.7 million in North Carolina to improve access and availability of healthy foods and drinks, improve product placement and attractiveness, and change the relative prices of healthy versus unhealthy items in convenience stores.
  • $3.6 million in California for the “Rethink Your Drink Campaign,” designed to shift individuals’ focus from high calorie sodas and fruit drinks to healthier alternatives such as water, milk, or 100 percent fruit juice beverages.
  • $3 million in Oregon to integrate tobacco control into health department programs and support a policy proposal to increase tobacco prices.
  • Nearly $1.2 million in Colorado for programs to increase sodium awareness and reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Grants have also been awarded to increase the number of farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods, boost amounts of locally-produced food, and mandate certain types of food in daycare centers. In some cases, funds may be used to lobby for higher taxes on these products.

CTGs represent a significant government overreach; the federal government has no place telling Americans how to live or what to consume. On April 13, 2011, the House passed H.R. 1217 in a 236-183 vote. The legislation repeals Section 4002 of the PPACA, eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held a hearing on October 12, 2011 on “The State of Chronic Disease Prevention,” in which it reviewed the merits and necessity (or lack thereof) of the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

It is time for the Senate to follow the House’s lead and oppose funding for such a profligate program. At a time when the national debt has hit a record $14.9 trillion, lawmakers should be looking for every viable way to slash unnecessary, wasteful and duplicative programs. Taxpayers cannot afford such a wasteful slush fund, nor should they be subjected to its behavior-modifying agenda.

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