TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — A bill that would eliminate “non-healthy, non-staple” foods from those permitted under food assistance guidelines sparked a tart debate in the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
The bill (SB 1658), sponsored by committee Chairwoman Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, would prohibit people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program money from using their benefits to buy foods containing trans fats; sweetened drinks, including sodas; candy; pudding; popsicles; potato chips; pretzels and a wide array of baked goods from the list of items currently allowed for purchase with SNAP funding under federal guidelines. The measure would prevent SNAP recipients from using their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to buy the prohibited items.
“Should the taxpayer foot the bill for Mountain Dew?” asked Storms.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said it’s not the state’s place to dictate people’s diets. “To me, it’s just too much government intervention.”
But Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said he hadn’t realized that SNAP recipients could buy such items and that Storms’ measure was long overdue.
“It breaks all of our hearts the way government is having to cut back on things that people are used to getting help from government on,” he said. “We’ve all had to vote for some painful cuts. I think what Sen. Storms is trying to do here is to say, ‘This is one way we could prioritize.'”
Detert said she would vote yes out of respect for Storms, but that many people don’t know how to cook from scratch and such training would be more useful to them.
“I’d rather see something pro-active and a lot more help to poor people,” she said. “A lot of kids think all food comes in a bag through a car window.”
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, asked if the measure contained a definition of “unhealthy.”
“Potato chips are healthy, is that what your argument is?” Storms answered.
“I’m trying to determine, if I show up to the store with my EBT card, who at the store is going to determine what in my cart is unhealthy and by what definition?” said Gibson.
Storms said her bill calls for the Florida Department of Children and Families to make up the list of items that could be paid for by SNAP funding. But she agreed to drop the term “unhealthy” from her bill, and it passed in the committee 4-2. It now goes to the Senate Budget Committee, its last stop.
“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”