Wisconsin Bill Would Treat Organic Milk, Sharp Cheddar, Brown Eggs as "Junk Food"

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.


Honestly this makes perfect sense to any logical person. If you don't work and are having the gov give you money why you should be able to buy junk food/beer etc. with it? Why should you eat better then those who work for a living and can not afford to buy the organic alternatives? I can see why Dems complain as it hits there voting base but honestly this is a pure logical step in curbing those living on entitlements. Now let's just hope that job search requirement goes further and is enforced better than the unemployment requirements.

There are shops in Milwaukee where you can use food stamps etc to buy liquor also while those items you listed are not "junk food" they sure aren't something those living off goverment aid should be given. The point is to give you what you need to live not feed you organic food/craft foods while those who are working cannot afford it. There is a difference between wants and needs and people need to realize that

If individual businesses break the law, that's not a valid argument for adding new restrictions to the law that have nothing to do with the violations you describe. I can't figure out how it would work, though, since these benefits are administered via an EBT card that cannot be used for things like paper towels or cleaning products, let alone alcohol, tobacco, etc. It is an automatic division that happens when items are being rung up.

Not sure how they do it but all you have to do is take a trip towards the north side and you can see small liquor stores that will go as far as having signs saying they accept WIC/food share etc. Again even alcohol aside there is no reason the taxpayers should be paying for food for those living off the goverment they cannot afford to buy themselves. The guidelines should be strict, exceedingly strict, on what can and cannot be bought with their essentially free food. Organic/brand names are not required to live and that is what people fail to understand. Furthermore there needs to be verification these people are looking for work, trying to better themselves etc. instead of just collecting checks so i am all for that as well. I personally hope that if this comes into law that the punishment for not following guidelines would be having those benefits stripped. I can't believe we even need to have this argument where those getting handouts are complaining they can't get enough free stuff. I think a stop in Milwaukee would be good for you just so you can seeing what our tax money is buying these people

Honestly, For every dollar we spend on public assistance, three dollars goes to corporate welfare. Talk about a group that does not need tax payers help. Organic food is better for all people. I make choices like not having a TV or cable, so I can spend my income on healthier food. It comes down to priorities. I would much rather people have the option to choose good quality food, even if on assistance, because a healthy diet keeps one out of the Dr.s offices and emergency rooms. Covering the cost of medical bills for the uninsured, or underinsured is a much bigger cost to society. I'm just grateful that I have the ability to work. I would never wish the circumstance on anyone who finds themselves in need of food assistance. I can't believe we like to think of ourselves as a civilized society but attack our most vulnerable. Further, if our economy continues to find itself in decline, and by all accounts, I don't see it heading into a positive direction, many of us could find ourselves in this very place, needing food assistance. Most people are one major illness away from bankruptcy today, even if they have insurance. We have much bigger problems in WI and nationally then nit-picking the food list for those who need some help right now.

are for the canned food and other groceries some of these convenience stores carry... they are NOT for liquor or cigarettes. If people are only allowed the bare minimum in nutrition (or, indeed, you aren't buying the best available nutrition for yourself), this can directly cause health issues that will have to be addressed at greater taxpayer cost down the road. It's a much better investment to ensure people have the opportunity to eat as healthfully as possible. There are already checks in place to periodically determine who is eligible for food stamps... even people who work can be eligible if they fall under a certain income threshold. people who complain that they can't afford to buy groceries should look into it.

Other than pure, simple resentment, why do you care what someone spends their food budget on? Some people are driven crazy by the mere thought of someone getting something they have, without paying the price they paid. "Taxpayers" aren't paying for food they cannot afford themselves. If they're unable to afford a food budget comparable to Food Share, their incomes are so low that they wouldn't be taxpayers in the first place. Because there are children involved, the restrictions on WIC purchases are reasonable. But if an adult decides that he's going to buy a free range steak one day and live on mac & cheese for the rest of the month, what business is it of yours? Why do care if they eat 3 brown eggs instead of 4 white eggs in a week? Why the resentment? It borders on pathological. In the grand scheme of things, Food Share is costing you a pittance. Better to scrutinize the spending habits of other pirates. You can begin with the defense dept. Government imposed faux-charity should give no one the right to dictate another adult's personal dietary choices, as if they were children. People are perfectly capable of taking personal responsibility for the consequences of failing to sensibly budget their food dollars, regardless of whether that dollar was earned or not. But there's a huge psychological dynamic going on with conservatives that spans all social safety net programs. In their ideal world, recipients would grovel on their knees before them and maybe even lick some boot leather. That would so much more gratifying, even more so than displaying righteous indignation with restrictions on beneficiaries. Alas, groveling and boot-licking is out of fashion nowadays. So micro-manage their lives instead.