Three bills have been tabled for discussion by Republican members of the Wisconsin State Assembly that would impose new restrictions on claimants of food stamps and unemployment benefits.
The first proposal, from assembly member Robert Brooks, would require supplemental nutrition assistance program — SNAP — recipients to spend at least two-thirds of their benefit on “nutritional foods.” They would also be barred from using their state-issued benefits debit cards to buy expensive products such as crab meat, shrimp and lobster.
The assembly already passed a similar bill two years ago, but at the time the Wisconsin Senate did not act on the proposal.
Assembly member Mike Rohrkaste put forward the other two measures. His first proposal would require applicants for some job training programs to undergo a drug test, while the second demands that unemployment benefit claimants who want to work in a sector where a drug test is mandatory should also have to take one to receive benefits.
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All three measures are due to be discussed at an assembly public hearing on April 30. A separate plan, which would require SNAP recipients to show photo ID to obtain their benefits, has also been suggested, but it is not clear when this will be considered.
Supporters of the SNAP measure insist it would help recipients to eat more healthfully. A similar bill was discussed recently in Missouri, again proposed by a Republican lawmaker.
But the idea of restricting what the poorest are allowed to eat has been criticized. A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service pointed out that a universal standard of what foods are nutritious does not exist.
The report also stated that those receiving benefits are no more likely than anyone else to make poor decisions about what they eat.
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The Harvard Political Review noted that attempts to control what the poor eat and drink are not new, and can worsen already strong feelings of social inequity. Similar efforts were made to ban the poor from drinking tea in Britain during the 18th century, it noted.
“Like tea 300 years ago, steak and shellfish are viewed as luxury food items that a poor single mother would be irresponsible to feed her family with. Yet what if that mother and her family had been eating exceptionally cheap and simple meals for weeks just so they could afford a nice holiday steak dinner? Would it be just to deny her and her family the rare opportunity to enjoy a fancy meal for a special occasion?” wrote Arjun Kapur.
photo credit: EBT Balance