Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine is seeking to prohibit the purchase of certain "unhealthy" items by Supplemental Nutrition Association Program (SNAP) members in his state. If passed, this legislation will regulate the type of food bought with welfare debit (EBT) cards. These dietary restrictions will ban any food considered “junk” such as soda, chips, and candy, the Huffington Post reports.
The bill, presented by Republican Sen. Roger Katz, states that, “the purchase of unhealthy products is antithetical to the purpose of the program.” Welfare reform has recently gained momentum on current political agendas with an emphasis on cracking down on alleged welfare abuse. The objective of this bill is to ensure that taxpayer money will not a contributor of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, MPBN News reports.
Since federal law prohibits states from deciding what SNAP participants can and cannot purchase, this proposed legislation would seek a waiver from this rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which manages SNAP).
The proposed "junk" food crackdown would utilize Maine's current tax system, in which certain "grocery staples" are exempt from the state sales tax. Thus, the ban would pertain to food that isn't exempt from those taxes, the Huffington Post states. Examples of such items are liquor, iced tea, dietary supplements, mineral water and prepared foods, to name a few.
This attempt to reform current welfare spending has received bipartisan support in Maine's state legislature.
Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said, “It's something that we hear time and time again from folks - that they really want to make sure that folks are getting nutritional food - and this is one approach of doing that."
Benthany Hamm, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services, gave an example to MPBN News of what she considers "unacceptable" food stamp spending.
"Multiple Red Bulls in one purchase," she said, "Rock Star energy drinks, 1-pound bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and 3 gallons of Hershey's Ice Cream in one purchase."
The Huffington Post states that those who oppose the welfare reform legislation criticize the bill for allegedly stigmatizing the poor and discouraging participation. Opponents of the bill also question the objectivity of what constitutes “junk” food.