April 18, 2014

Lawmakers hear opposition to Food Share bill

Concerns are being raised about a bill aimed at encouraging those enrolled in the state’s Food Share program to make healthier purchases.

Lawmakers took testimony Tuesday on legislation from state Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah), which would create a pilot program for the state’s Food Share program that could limit spending benefits on junk food or high dollar grocery items. Kaufert told lawmakers that the bill would not ban any food from the program. He just wants to help recipients “make good decisions on how to spend those Food Share dollars to get the most out of the money.”

Kaufert also pointed to complaints and stories he has heard about recipients loading up their carts with high value food items and then paying for them with taxpayer dollars.

AUDIO: Rep. Dean Kaufert (:15)

The bill is receiving some push back though from grocers and charities that help provide food to the poor. During a Capitol hearing Tuesday, Sherri Tessler with the Hunger Task Force argued the proposal ignores the fact that many Food Share recipients live in food deserts, where the corner store is often the closest option for shopping. Tessler says many of those businesses do not carry basic food items or fresh produce and, if they do, the products are typically much more expensive than they would be in a traditional grocery store.

AUDIO: Sherri Tessler (:08)

Tessler says some residents in Milwaukee would have to travel at least 15 blocks to get to a grocery store, which can be difficult for those living in poverty. She says similar challenges exist for those living in rural areas, who may have to drive 20 minutes to buy food.

Wisconsin’s Food Share program is funded through federal dollars, which was another complication targeted by those testifying against the bill. The state would need to request a waiver to create restrictions on Food Share purchases, which many advocates say is unlikely to happen after similar proposals in other states were rejected.

A legislative committee is expected to act on the bill later this week.