A bill requiring healthy foods to be purchased with “food stamps” has cleared a legislative committee. The amended bill from state Representative Dean Kaufert of Neenah would require FoodShare program participants to spend at least 67 percent of their benefits on items designated by the federal WIC nutrition program. The bill cleared the Assembly State Affairs Committee on a partisan vote, where one Democrat charged that it’s little more than “press release politics.” The action clears the way for a possible vote by the full Assembly.
AUDIO: Rep. Kaufert Q&A (11:10)
“This bill is just meant to divide our working poor Wisconsinites, our poor Wisconsinites, from our middle-class Wisconsinites. That’s why this was put forth,” said Representative JoCasta Zamaripa of Milwaukee. She noted that over 60 percent of participants in FoodShare are white, and 37 percent are elderly or disabled, or both. “On average they’re on the program for about one year, and then they’re done with it. This is divisive politics.”
“We’re carving out one-third of it for whatever they want. Chips, soda, food that’s not on the list. The bottom line is it’s logical,” countered Representative Joel Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican. “When you explain this to the average person, they say it just makes sense. We’re not going to say you can’t have a bag of Doritos with your hamburger. We’re not going to say you can’t have a soda with your dinner.”
If passed and signed into law, Kaufert’s bill (AB 110) would require a federal waiver. Two other states have failed to get approval for similar plans. “It hasn’t happened yet because I don’t think the program was right,” said Kaufert. “I think this program is going to be something that catches their attention. It’s promoting healthy eating. I think this is something that Michelle Obama should like.”
Kaufert said their have been “abuses” of the FoodShare program. “People have told me – anecdotally of course, because nobody tracks the purchases – but around New Years Eve you’ll see a lot of people with porterhouse steaks, t-bones, lobster, and pay for it with food stamps. In some peoples’ minds those would be abuses. It’s totally allowable. It’s legal. But should it happen? Probably not.”