Tennessee could ban people from using food stamps to buy soda, ice cream, other junk food

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A lawmaker in Tennessee wants to ban people from using food stamps to buy items that have no nutritional value. The bill was proposed by Republican Rep. Sheila Butt.

House Bill 43 would prohibit people from using food stamps to purchase items high in calories, sugar or fat, according to the Tennessean. That would include soda, ice cream, candy, cookies and cake.

Under the proposal, the state would be able to seek a waiver to create a list of prohibited food items, the Tennessean reports.

The bill would also impose penalties on retailers who sell banned items to people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Individuals and businesses that violate the measure, should it become law, would be fined $1,000 for a first offense, $2,500 for a second offense and up to $5,000 for a third or more offense in a five-year period,” the Tennessean reports.

“I go into convenience stores almost every day and see the most non-nutritional foods on the counters and in the aisles marked ‘EBT Approved.’ These are the same foods that we have banned from our children’s lunchrooms,” Butt said on her website.

“By allowing their purchase with EBT cards, we are actually enhancing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity in at-risk communities.

“Taxpayers are supporting unhealthy lifestyle choices on the front end and up paying for resulting health care costs on the back end. Tennessee has an very high rate of obesity and consequently taxpayers are paying a high price for health care.

“This is very counterproductive, counterintuitive and costly.”

Butt issued a preemptive strike against critics who “will complain the proposal doesn’t allow people to spend their money how they want.”

“When you’re receiving taxpayer dollars, it’s not money that you have earned. It’s money that other people have earned and is redistributed to you. Strings come along with that,” Butt said on her website.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which included 26 million U.S. families, found the average person on food stamps spends 9.3 percent of their total grocery budget on soda and other sugary drinks.

That’s the highest percentage for any broad product group other than meat/poultry/seafood, UPI reported.

According to the Associated Press, more than 1 million people in Tennessee received food stamps as of November. The amount of aid was nearly $135 million.