According to the Associated Press, Wisconsin legislation introduced last month by Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) would reduce the amount of food stamps allowed to be spent on “junk” food. Kaufert wants to limit the portion of benefits people can use to buy items such as potato chips and soda. His bill, however, does not identify any specific foods and would essentially require the state Department of Health Services to develop a pilot program to meet that goal. Kaufert has said he wants to promote healthy eating among participants in FoodShare, the state’s nutrition assistance program, but those who testified during a hearing on the Capitol said it would shame participants and burden businesses.
Brandon Scholz, President of Wisconsin Grocers Association, said that allowing the state to decide which foods are healthy and which aren’t would open the door to potential product placement requirements, bans, and taxes. He also said it could lead to embarrassing and even contentious moments when cashiers have to tell people what they can’t buy.
Gina Wilson, Director of Agency Services and Programs at Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, said many food stamp users already have limited access to large grocery stores, and she feared the bill would unfairly label those people as unable to make good food choices.
The program has been criticized amid reports of participants selling their benefit cards and applying for free replacements. Kevin Moore, Deputy Secretary of the State Dept. of Health Services, said the bill would help the department better identify and prevent such problems.
FoodShare uses federal money to help low-income individuals and families buy almost any food but not alcohol, cigarettes, or restaurant meals. About 15% of Wisconsin’s population, or 850,000 people, got such benefits in February.