A gaggle of right-wing Republicans has filed a bill imposing limits on what products food stamps can be used for. Its stated aim is to stop food stamps from being used for excessively sugared items that lead to obesity and other health problems.
The bill would would mandate that the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) “shall only allow benefits to be used only for foods, food products, and beverages that have sufficient nutritional value.”
The state’s Department of Human Services would be charged with determining what products qualify as having sufficient nutritional value based upon the standards for another food aid program, the Women, Infant and Children Program (WIC). WIC, for pregnant women and women with young children, has strict nutritional requirements and can only be used for certain items, such as milk, eggs, tofu, breakfast cereal, beans, whole grain items, infant formula and baby food, and fruits and vegetables.
SNAP can be currently be used to buy any food item, with exceptions for alcohol and hot food or food that would be eaten in-store.
The state would have to acquire a waiver from the federal government in order to enact the strict limitations it envisions. Republicans in the West Virginia legislature unsuccessfully tried to pass a similar bill last year.
Conservatives typically oppose the nanny state, but for whatever reason some seem invested in creating additional layers of bureaucracy in the lives of poor people.
Among other problems, strict limitations would be devastating to Arkansans living in so-called “food deserts” (see map above). The bill would create a massive access problem in rural areas and low-income neighborhoods in Arkansas, where some food stamp beneficiaries might find themselves unable to use food stamps because of a lack of retailers offering eligible items.
The USDA is beginning to try to address structural problems and explore innovative solutions to increase access to healthy food to people living in food deserts, defined by the USDA “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas…due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” But this bill — sponsored by 45 GOP legislators — does nothing to address the access problem, instead opting to impose additional rules, hurdles, and hassles on poor people.