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Florida Small-Government GOP to Food Stamp Recipients: No Pretzels, Pastries or Cupcakes

| January 30, 2012

It's not the 1930s anymore, Toto. (Franklin Roosevelt Library)

A proposal to prevent poor people from using federal assistance to buy certain snack foods was narrowly approved by a House committee Monday, but the sponsor said after heavy debate that he may change sections of the bill dictating what foods the aid can be used for.

Those restrictions weren’t removed Monday, but bill sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon acknowledged he may need to at least make some changes, following concerns from other House members about whether deciding what the poor can eat is fair game for the state to decide.

Federal law has always prohibited the use of food stamps to buy alcohol or tobacco products, pet food, soaps, paper products, household supplies, vitamins and medicines or hot food, which includes use of food stamps at restaurants. The Florida House bill, pressing a redundancy, again specifies fast-food and other restaurants as prohibited places where food stamps can be used.

The bill (HB 1401) passed the House Health and Human Services Access Subcommittee 8-6. As it stands, the measure would prevent recipients of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, money from buying a long list of foods and drinks legislators define as “non-staple, unhealthy foods” including orange juice and many baked goods. “Such prohibited items,” the bill reads, “include, but are not limited to, sweetened beverages, including sodas; sweets, such as jello, candy, ice cream, pudding, popsicles, muffins, sweet rolls, cakes, cupcakes, pies, cobblers, pastries, and doughnuts; and salty snack foods, such as corn-based salty snacks, pretzels, party mix, popcorn, and potato chips.”

The bill leaves broadly undefined the terms “nonstaple, unhealthy foods.”

The bill also calls for “culturally sensitive campaigns to promote” the prohibitions “as well as the benefits of healthy and nutritious eating habits.”

Plakon, R-Longwood, disagreed with those who said the measure represents an overreach.

“This is money being taken from one taxpayer, and out of compassion being given to another,” he said. “So I think it’s entirely reasonable for the Legislature to put restrictions.”

With the ban on certain food purchases drawing much of the debate on Monday, the bill in the House eventually will likely focus more on preventing the use of the food aid program’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in Internet cafes.

Among those who voted for the bill Monday were Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Rep. Felix Jose Diaz, R-Miami – with whom Plakon said he’d be working to fix their concerns with the section on prohibited foods.

“I understand what drove him to file this bill, and it’s getting Internet cafes under control,” Young said. “But I don’t want people telling me what to eat and I don’t think it’s right for us as a government – even if they happen to be poor. Even if they happen to be on food stamps.”

An amendment by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, would have made an exception for cake or cupcakes on a child’s birthday. But it was voted down, partly on Young’s argument that the entire food stamp section needed a revamp.

Among the problems opponents cited was that HB 1401 would ban use of EBT cards in retail establishments “licensed to sell malt, vinous or spirituous liquors.”

“To me, that looks like every grocery store or CVS or Walgreen’s in the state,” Young said.

“The intent is [banning the use of EBTs in] liquor stores,” Plakon responded.

Young said the bill would place “a considerable burden on our retail establishments.”

That was evidenced by the state associations that showed up Monday to oppose the bill – including the Florida Retail Federation and the Florida Beverage Association.

“I suspect for the good parts to move forward, I’m going to have to make some substantive changes,” Plakon said after the meeting. “They clearly want the food stamp portion removed, and that may very well happen.”

When Franklin Roosevelt introduced food stamps in 1933, the then-called the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation’s purpose was to “expand markets for agricultural products, and to purchase, store, and process surplus agricultural products so as to relieve the hardship and suffering caused by unemployment.” At the time, the nation was in Depression, and surplus food was not finding its way to markets. The initiative ended in the early 1940s and was re-started by President Kennedy in 1961 after his famed trips through Appalachia. The federal government changed “food stamps” to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008. Twenty-nine states, among them Florida, followed suit, though some states still call them food stamps. Food stamps have periodically been ideological lightning rods, especially during Republican administrations or by Republican oppositions intent on scaling back spending or “entitlements.”

Newt Gingrich, a contender for the GOP’s presidential nomination, has described President Obama as “the best food-stamp president in American history,” a slur that has won him accolades from many party faithfuls. But attacks on the food stamps program have backfired in the past, particularly when placed in factual contexts: the average weekly food stamp benefit per participant in Florida is just under $35, not nearly enough to more than slightly supplement a family’s pantry. In October 2011, 3.2 million Floridians received food stamps, and 46.2 million Americans did. The program provides considerable support to food retailers, pumping $5.15 billion in federal funds into the Florida economy alone in 2011.

The House bill has two more stops, the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and the Health and Human Services Committee.

A similar bill (SB 1658) is moving on the Senate side of the Capitol, sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico. Her focus, however, is what types of food can be bought with SNAP money, though last week she agreed to drop the term “unhealthy” from her bill, and it passed the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs. It now goes to the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations, its last stop.

–FlaglerLive and the News Service of Florida

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14 Responses for “Florida Small-Government GOP to Food Stamp Recipients: No Pretzels, Pastries or Cupcakes”

  1. Angela Smith via Facebook says:

    Florida’s GOP is getting scarier by the day….

    • lisa m moyer says:

      Never in my whole life except for the past few years have I ever been on food stamps. the prices of food along w fuel keeps going up but americans pay does not or worst yet are unemployed. AQll these years I have paid into the system. Now that I am down and out people are going to tell e what to eat? Is this America or Russia I am confused?

  2. Tom Brown says:

    I never thought a politician could be against apple pie, but there’s always a first. Even more shocking is that a Florida pol would come out against orange juice. Let’s see, doesn’t our state government spend millions every year promoting orange juice?? Let’s hope this gets thoroughly reported and mocked as it deserves, It undercuts the GOP argument that the government should stay out of people’s lives.

    • Begonia says:

      Hey, it is your president’s wife who wants them to plant vegetable gardens. Don’t blame the gop. All politicians need to be voted out.

      How about all politicans stop telling us how to live and stick to their constitutional charters? Would that be so hard?

  3. marty says:

    “It undercuts the GOP argument that the government should stay out of people’s lives.”

    No, Republicans only think the Government should stay out of RICH peoples lives. Oh, and corporations too.

  4. Outsider says:

    I watched a young woman with a toddler go into the BP in Bunnell a few months back. She had two big gulps of soda, a bag of chips, a bottle of unidentified sugar liquid, and her toddler was sucking down some unidentifiable pink liquid in a bottle. Guess how she paid the 13 plus dollar bill? According to this story, that was more than a third of her weekly allowance blown on a bunch of crap. This is a prime example of the Dems argument that everyone should be entitled to as much government money as they can grab, but should remain totally unaccountable.

  5. Kip Durocher says:

    @ Outsider ~you witnessed this and you are a witness to felony fraud by the BP in Bunnell and the person on food-stamps. You should, as a concerned citizen, report it and give a sworn statement to the government.
    Food stamps are not allowed to be redeemed for any of the food stuffs you listed.

    I have informed DHS of your witness to this crime and they are expecting your call or will contact Flagler Live for your name.
    Thanks for your patriotism in reporting this. It is true hands on citizens like yourself that will have these people ~ both the food-stamp recipient and the Bunnell BP owner imprisoned for the maximum allowable time in federal prison.
    They are expecting your call. Department of Human Services, call the 24-hour hotline for fraud at (202) 673-4464.
    Tell them Case # 42A/2012

    I think we should drug-test all the politicians in Tallahassee every other week also.

  6. tjm says:

    and all welfare and food receive food stamps. I have always had to take a drug test for my employment. for the privilege of paying for those services. YES they are needed. But have you ever been behind someone at Walmart. I was shocked. 3 grocery carts full of food. and one cart was JUNK FOOD and DRINKS…

    LEGAL abuse at its finest. ENOUGH of the WELFARE STATE… GET A JOB!!

  7. NortonSmitty says:

    At the risk of myself becoming a target of the Great Patriotic Food Stamp Defense Brigade (Flagler Battalion) with the possibility of offending Kommander Kip and getting targeted for a case number of my own (I would like to request #1234blowmeasshole456), I may be able to save some of the tax dollars you right wing bastards are always claiming to worship only if they are never used.

    Public Assistance 101, Ladies: You get a credit type card to load monthly with your food stamps. If you have an infant, the same card gets loaded with additional funds to purchase diapers, formula etc. Some get an additional stipend of unrestricted funds to buy things that are not covered by the above. Toilet paper, aspirins, shit like that. You may not believe this, but this is also loaded onto THE Same Card! No Shit.

    So what you saw was not a felony. A poor choice maybe. Maybe her power was off and had no way to cook at home. Maybe she had no home. Maybe she was on crack. Who knows? But it probably was no felony. Hell we all know the bullshit story itself was just made up and fed to you by the Great Right Wing Piss Off the Old White Guys and Get Out the Vote Machine. Now that SHOULD be a felony.

    See, if you would go out and volunteer to help the less fortunate of our neighbors, you boys would know this. And since you probably spent at least an afternoon with that evil government you so despise to the point they gave you a number just to get you the hell off the phone, and then another hour our two writing the comment here to brag about what a studly Conservative you are, it seems you got some time on your hands. Maybe you would not be so bitter and miserable if you spent some of it actually helping the poor instead of bragging to all of us how proud you are about trying to put a young poor mother in jail for a felony soda-purchase. Jesus would be so proud of you, Stud!

    I hoped this pulled those panties out of your cheeks on at least this subject ladies. I hope you think about this and it inspires all of you to go get a real life. Or at least take an audit of your own Goddamned medicine cabinet.


  8. Anonymous says:

    Seriously? Orange juice?

  9. Flagler Born & Raised says:

    This is a double edge sward…I’ve been in the checkout as someone using a food stamp card purchased healthy organic non GMO foods as well as lean meats and fish only to hear the people talk when they walk out on how it must be nice that the government pays for the poor to eat better than what they can afford working for it. So if you buy healthy your judged as well. In fact the (WIC) programs can’t allow purchases for Organic milk or even sharp cheeses for the very same reason as someone trying to control what is eaten by the poor. I agree that sugar should not be a main staple in anyone’s diet but at the end of the day I am only accountable for myself and my each their own. Only God can judge..if your concerned be the change~Make A difference~Help one Another~Love One Another~

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