Wis. lawmakers to limit foods purchased with food stamps

Bill would prohibit people using food stamps from buying crab, lobster, shrimp and other shellfish

Wisconsin lawmakers want to regulate what users can purchase with food stamps.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill to limit the types of food that food stamp users can buy.

The Republican-sponsored bill would require those using food stamps to use at least two-thirds of their monthly benefits to buy nutritional foods like beef, chicken and produce.

The bill would also prohibit those people from buying crab, lobster, shrimp and other shellfish with their food stamps.

Tom Miller is an economic support supervisor in La Crosse County. Among many other programs, he deals with people signing up for the FoodShare program in eight counties in Western Wisconsin.

“Compared to the other consortiums, we’re one of the smaller ones,” Miller said.

In Buffalo, Clark, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Pepin, Trempealeau, Vernon counties there were almost 33,000 people on food stamps in the month of March and more than 815,000 people statewide.

Miller said monitoring what people buy isn’t difficult, it’s already being done.

“We can tell where people use their cards, we can tell you what store they used it at and how much the benefits are,” Miller said.

But the Wisconsin Grocers Association said to be able to decide what is considered junk food and what is nutritional food would be time-consuming and expensive.

“The grocers will have to also rewrite their software to be able to read a card that has a two-track benefit on it, along with their warehouses and others and in their IT area on how to do that,” said association president Brandon Scholz. “People ask how much is that going to cost and our sense is, it could cost millions of dollars.”

The Hunger Task Force in La Crosse doesn’t accept food stamps, but many of its clients are on the FoodShare program.

The organization’s executive director, Shelly Fortner, said the people receiving these benefits deserve respect and that is not what they are getting with this legislation. She said the money used for this program could be spent elsewhere.

“Rather than spending these hundreds of dollars on nutrition and enforcement of something that’s just going to take away people’s dignity, why are we not spending those dollars on education, nutrition education,” Fortner said.

State Rep. Lee Nerison, of Westby, who voted in favor of the this bill, said in a statement to News 8:

“Under this bill, the majority of foods purchased with FoodShare dollars would be fresh or minimally processed or staple products that generally follow the guidelines of the existing WIC program. As Chair of the Agriculture Committee, I’m pleased that Wisconsin agricultural products – dairy, potatoes, poultry and cranberries – will be eligible for purchase.  Promoting the consumption of nutritious, healthy food is a goal I hope we can all share.”

Since the FoodShare program is a federal program, if this bill is signed into law, Wisconsin will have to apply to the federal government for a waiver to change the program. That request has never been granted to any other state.