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Florida bill to prohibit “junk” SNAP food purchases passes committee

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 01-Feb-2012

Related topics: Cereals and bakery preparations, Chocolate and confectionery ingredients, Regulation, Food prices, Food finance

A Florida State Senate Committee has passed a bill intended to restrict purchases of certain foods under nutrition assistance programs, such as Food Stamps, or SNAP (Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program).

Senator Ronda Storms (R-Valrico) introduced the bill to restrict spending on less healthy foods and beverages, at a time when the state is making cuts in other areas, she said.

One in seven, or 48m, Americans currently receive food stamps, and the number of Americans who benefit through the program has grown rapidly as the economy has struggled. The use of food stamps is already prohibited for some grocery store items, such as alcohol, nutritional supplements and prepared foods.

“These dollars are intended to help struggling families, and in most cases, funds are being used appropriately,” she said. “But there is no excuse for misusing assistance dollars, and we have to make changes to the law to ensure this does not continue.”

In particular, the bill requires that the Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees the SNAP program, should add “non-staple, unhealthy foods” to the list of items that may not be purchased with its funds.

The bill states: “Such prohibited items include, but are not limited to, foods containing trans fats; sweetened beverages, including sodas; sweets, such as jello, candy, ice cream, pudding, popsicles, muffins, sweet rolls, cakes, cupcakes, pies, cobblers, pastries, and doughnuts; and salty snack foods, such as corn-based salty snacks, pretzels, party mix, popcorn, and potato chips.”

The bill, SB 1658, would also prohibit use of food stamps at restaurants, including fast food chains.

“Most individuals using public assistance dollars are using the funds to get by and to provide for their families. However, we should do what we can to prevent dollars intended to help Florida’s poorest families from being spent in the wrong places,” Storms said.

Storms wrote to members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction last November requesting that they prevent foods generally considered to be “junk food” to be bought with SNAP program dollars.

“I believe we must work at all levels of government to reduce the gross amount of wasteful spending that has plagued our nation and prevents us from achieving a full economic recovery,” said Senator Storms at that time. “I would like to see the committee provide greater oversight of public assistance programs, save taxpayer money, and add the accountability that Americans want and so desperately need.”

She said she would like to see measures taken at both a federal and a state level to ensure foods with a low nutritional value were disallowed under publicly funded programs.

A similar proposal to prohibit purchases of sugar-sweetened drinks with food stamps in New York City – for an initial two-year trial period – was rejected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) last August.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the proposal would be too complex to implement and questioned its viability and effectiveness.