FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) – A bill that would limit what items could be purchased with state welfare funds is making headway in the Florida Senate.
Currently, food stamps can be used to buy staples like milk, vegetables, fruits and meat. But they can also use them to buy sweets like cakes, cookies and Jell-O and snack foods like chips, something a state senator wants stopped.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, also wants to stop the use of other welfare funds, known as Temporary Assistance For Needy Families, at ATMs in casinos and strip clubs and anywhere out of state. The bill comes after reports that the debit cards welfare recipients now receive were used in those places, as well as locations in Las Vegas and the Virgin Islands in a small percentage of cases, but the state does not track what items were purchased.
The bill recently passed a committee. A companion bill in the state House companion is being considered by a subcommittee.
The bill would also require the state to launch a culturally sensitive campaign to educate people about the benefits of a nutritious diet. Supporters say it would help recipients follow healthy eating habits and prevent taxpayer funds from being used to purchase luxury foods like bakery cakes when they can whip up a cheaper box mix.
“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 in a statement.
But critics say the government shouldn’t dictate what people eat.
“What I choose to ingest even though I may be on food stamps, that’s at my discretion. I don’t need government telling me what I can and cannot purchase,” said Rep. Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, a Pompano Beach Democrat who voted in committee against the bill (SB 1658).
Clarke-Reed said the bill is demeaning and invasive and she worries the education campaign would imply to “minorities and low-income folks that they’re not intelligent enough to make selections on the foods they want.”
The state Department of Children and Families, which oversees the food stamp program, would have to get federal approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement the bill if it passes, which may be tricky since no other states have been successful. The federal government spent nearly $5 billion last year to help about 3 million Floridians, as an increasing number are relying on the program in a sour economy. The average monthly benefit in the state is about $140 per person, according to the USDA.
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