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State bill would restrict food stamp purchases

By Glenn Evans
April 5, 2011 at 11 p.m.

Grocery shoppers who pay with the Lone Star Card no longer would be able to buy sodas, candy, many cookies and chips or other such foods under a bill pending in Austin.

The Lone Star Card, which replaced paper, tear-out food stamps in Texas in the 1990s, is producing twin ill effects in the opinion of Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene.

"It's really a dual thing for me - it's health," she said, noting inferior nutritional characteristics of many items food stamps can buy. "And it's a misuse of taxpayer funds."

King's House Bill 3451 would restrict food stamp purchases to foods described in the federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program or the Women, Infants and Children voucher program.

It would accomplish that state aim regarding a U.S. Department of Agriculture food program by seeking a waiver from the federal agency.

Food stamps, basically, purchase anything edible - good, bad, whole-wheat, whole-sugar.

The Women, Infants and Children program issues vouchers for specific foods in prescribed amounts.

For instance, WIC will buy a 16-ounce block of whole-milk cheese, but not 16 ounces of the processed food product that often comes individually wrapped for sandwiches. It will buy certain whole-grain breakfast cereals but not the ones fortified with sugar.

"I think it's a rare government program that they just hand you carte blanche and say, 'Do whatever you want with it,' " Davis said.

A grocery store checker in her teens, King doesn't blame parents with food stamps for buying soft drinks or succumbing to pleas for candy at the checkout counter.

"It's absolutely human nature," she said. "It would take a very strong person to say, 'I'm getting all this free food, only I'm not going to buy all of what I want.' "

She also resists descriptions of her bill as the "nanny state" intruding on personal and parental decisions. Parents can buy whatever they decide their children can have, she said, just not on the taxpayers' dime.

"That is really odd to me," she said. "It is not a nanny state. If you're entitled to a program by virtue of your situation, and the federal government is paying for your food, we have a right to tell you what is allowed on that payment, period."

A spokesman for Kroger said Tuesday that food stamp customers should have the same food choices others have.

"The (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp) program is very beneficial to customers on SNAP benefits," spokesman Gary Huddleston said.

"I do believe the food customer deserves choice in their food purchase. They should be a customer just like any other customers. ... Certainly, education on nutritional value is good, and most of our products have nutritional value on them anyway. But, the customer should make that decision and not necessarily the local (government) agency."

King's bill awaits a public hearing in the House Human Services Committee. None is scheduled.

"We're trying to redirect it to Public Health," she said of an alternate committee assignment.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, sits on the human services committee. He did not return phone messages seeking comment on the bill's movement toward a public hearing.



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