Arkansas lawmakers will consider a bill banning food stamps recipients from using the benefits to purchase unhealthy food in the upcoming 2017 legislative session. The proposed law is designed to help curb the state's obesity rate.
Republican state Rep. Mary Bentley has proposed a bill that would restrict the state's recipients the of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from using their benefits to purchase groceries low in nutritional value, KSDK reports.
Bentley has cited Arkansas' status as the third highest state in obesity, with 35 percent of residents overweight and 36 percent obese, as the justification for her legislation.
"Obesity, it causes so much disease," Bentley said. "I read in a public report that 40 percent of funding that goes to Medicaid and Medicare in our state is through obesity-related diseases."
The Arkansas lawmaker added that many of her constituents have complained about the perceived use of SNAP benefits, often called food stamps, to purchase junk food.
"They're happy to go to work and help folks that need it, but they want to be respected, and would like folks to use their stamps to bring home to their kids."
In Arkansas, 1 in 6 residents rely on SNAP benefits. The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance found that 72 percent of SNAP recipients in the state are families with children. In these families, 16 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 4 are overweight while 15 percent are obese.
In Bentley's view, imposing new restrictions on how the benefits are used will lower the rates of child and adult obesity in Arkansas and, by extension, help reduce Medicare and Medicaid costs.
If the bill is passed, the Arkansas Department of Human Services would need a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the requirement. Bentley has not outlined which foods would be banned but has offered some general suggestions, WREG reports.
"Limit soft drinks, candy bars," Bentley told WMC. "We want to encourage folks to get things that they can take home and make a meal for their families."
Arkansas resident Priscilla Graves believes the bill is common sense that can help families practice healthier eating habits.
"If you got kids and you're getting food stamps, that junk food is not going to hold them," Graves said. "They need some solid meats."
On KSDK's Facebook page, one Arkansas resident commented that junk food is often much more affordable than healthy ingredients.
"In theory, it's a great idea," the woman wrote. "Real food is too expensive. Kids would go hungry. It defeats the purpose."