Posted by Rebekah Wilce on May 06, 2013

Wisconsin ranks 44th in the nation for new job creation. Rather than rolling up their sleeves and finding new and innovative ways to help create jobs, the Wisconsin legislature is spending its time telling people needing food assistance what they should be eating. AB 110, which will be up for a vote in the Assembly on Tuesday, May 7, is geared toward limiting "the amount of food stamp benefits that could be spent on junk food." But some of the fine print of the bill, bizarrely, would ban people from choosing more healthy and less expensive options for their families. The bill is one of many being considered that are unduly punitive of the poor.

Restricting Access to Organic and Other Whole Foods

WIC EggsAs of March 2013, 858,000 Wisconsinites receive FoodShare benefits. The bill, AB 110, would limit FoodShare, Wisconsin's food stamp program funded through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, Governor Scott Walker has already proposed to require all "able-bodied adults" who receive food stamps (and don't have dependent children) to train or search for work in order to continue receiving those benefits. This even though Walker has failed to create the 250,000 jobs he promised when running for office in 2010.

Now Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is sponsoring another bill to further limit FoodShare. Kaufert told the Wisconsin Radio Network that the bill would make it so that a benefit recipient "can't buy six bags of nachos and four cases of soda."

Specifically, the amended program would allow only a third of an individual's FoodShare benefits to be spent on a full range of food as they currently can be. The remaining two-thirds would be subject to the same restrictions as the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutritional program, with some small modifications. (Both programs, of course, bar restaurant food, cigarettes, alcohol, and pet foods.)

WIC MilkWIC is a federal program intended to supplement food stamp benefits for a particularly vulnerable population of women and young children. As such, it has strict -- and at times very odd -- guidelines to focus these supplemental food dollars on nutritionally dense staple foods.

Wisconsin's AB 110 would mandate that two-thirds of a person's FoodShare benefits could be spent only on foods on the WIC-approved list. Exemptions have been added so recipients can also purchase fish, beef, pork, chicken, and potatoes. Strangely, exemptions were not added so that the "healthy" two-thirds could also be spent on a full range of healthy Wisconsin farm products and fresh food.

The result is that the bulk of your FoodShare dollars can be spent on milk, but not organic milk; on eggs, but only on white eggs by the dozen, not on brown, free-range, or organic eggs; on 100 percent whole wheat bread, but not on gluten-free bread for those with Celiac disease; on slices of American cheese, but not sharp cheddar. FoodShare dollars can be spent on dry beans, but not if they come from a money-saving bulk bin at your local food coop. You can get juice boxes for your children, but only Juicy Juice brand juice boxes.

In order for the state Department of Health Services to implement changes to FoodShare purchasing guidelines, it would need to attain a federal waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But when Minnesota tried to prohibit purchase of candy or soda in 2004, and New York City tried to ban purchase of certain sugary drinks in 2010, both waiver requests were denied. The USDA points out the lack of clear standards to define foods as healthy or unhealthy.

As Bill Approaches Vote, Public Input Needed

According to the Associated Press, the Assembly committee heard input from food companies, grocery stores, and food banks. They told Wisconsin lawmakers that restrictions "would shame recipients and burden businesses with enforcement." Democrats on the committee -- who voted against the measure -- said it "would stigmatize poor people who already have limited options in buying food."

In addition to Rep. Kaufert, AB 110's supporters include Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette), Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg), Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay), Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake), Scott Krug (R-Wisconsin Rapids), Pat Strachota (R-West Bend), Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade), Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), Alvin Ott (R-Forest Junction), Mike Endsley (R-Sheboygan), Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz), and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City). In the Senate, the bill's supporters include Senators Robert Cowles (R-Shawano), Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), Frank Lasee (R-Casco), and Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend).

As Wisconsin Assemblymembers gather to vote on this bill May 7, these elected officials should expect to hear from those whose lives and food choices would be directly affected by the bill.


NOTE: AB 110 passed the Wisconsin State Assembly on May 7, 2013.

Rebekah Wilce

Rebekah Wilce is a reporter and researcher who directs CMD's Food Rights Network project.

Comments

I'm not understanding here. WIC requirements demand that nutritionally dense foods be purchased, and FoodShare is intended to help the poor make sure that they can purchase nutritional foods, yes? I could see an exception made for those with specific, medically sound and backed nutritional requirements, but I don't see any reason that the state should have to pay for organic or other "fancy" foods when the staples will do just fine. Further, there is no additional work to verify these things, just some education of those on FoodShare.

The point is that the guidelines are overly restrictive, excising not just what would be generally consider "junk food" or even what you might deem "fancy food," but plenty of healthy and basic staple foods.

The WIC list was designed to be a list of supplemental foods to go with regular groceries to enhance the health of a pregnant or nursing woman. It would be a terribly unhealthy list for anyone with food allergies or dietary restrictions. It would also prevent cooking from scratch for many recipes. For instance, you could buy commercial, chemical-filled bread but not purchase flour or cornmeal to make your own. The list contains many boxes of chemically-laden cereals but not plain oatmeal. This list is too restrictive for a healthy family or aging adult.

"Anonymous" should not even be printed here because he/she is not willing to stand up under their own name. Come out from under your bridge, troll.

The prohibited foods are often CHEAPER than the required foods, and are definitely more healthy. Do T9i want to pay more money to treat medical conditions like heart disease, celibacy disease, and tickets? And for those who have food allergies and couldn't work if forced to eat these foods? This is yet another example of the corporate food lobbies paying off the legislature. And forcing kids to drink cor--syrup-laden drinks instead of real juice? By brand name? "Juicy Juice" gets profits from the taxpayers while we pay again forth health problems of obesity.

"medical conditions like heart disease, celibacy disease, and tickets"

LOL!

I think he/she meant Celiac disease.

So, you should cite the person making the comment, place a comma before the quote and add three dots within quotation marks and following the excerpt — also within quotation marks. And LOL , being an abbreviation , should be capitalized.

Careful with the stones you throw from your glass house. It may be raining.

And now back to the actual topic: cutbacks and redefining what's allowed under food assistance.

The link provided in the article only provides an abbreviated/edited version of the actual bill. In order to get the complete version, one would need to spend some time at the WI government's legislative website. And good luck with that. And then there are the amendments, which may or may not change the actual bill.

Isn't government for-profit fun?

Since juicy juice is 100% juice and nothing else,(according to the label,) then your point about syrup laden 'juices' is moot in regards to it. Neither do you establish your unproven claim about the juicy juice manufacturer.

I am a lactose intolerant celiac on food share assistance. Because I have a pending disability claim with no income, food share is my only means of acquiring food.

I've read the text of AB110, but could not find where it talks about organics, bulks goods, milk and eggs. What are your sources? Where did this information come from? Do you have access to the list of authorized foods?

I'm so sorry, the link to these guidelines was accidentally dropped from the article. I've replaced it. Here it is: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/publications/P4/P44578.pdf Keep in mind that these restrictions (with added exemptions as mentioned in the article) would apply -- as the bill currently stands -- to two-thirds of the FoodShare benefit.

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