Republican Bill adds Insult to Injury to Wisconsin’s Low-income Population Receiving Food Assistance Benefits
A Senate committee of the Wisconsin Legislature held a public hearing Wednesday (Jan. 15 ) on a bill that requires two-thirds of Food Share benefits (food stamps) be spent on healthy food. The bill, which was authored by Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) and has already been passed by the Wisconsin Assembly, requires that two-thirds of the Food Share benefits an individual or family receives in Wisconsin must be spent on “good, healthy staples”.
Democrats and anti-hunger advocates questioned why just people using Food Share are being told what to eat. Matt Stienstra from Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee said that focusing on recipients stigmatizes people in the program.
The Hunger Task Force is also concerned the changes would complicate the benefits program and negatively affect the elderly, many of whom are already hesitant to use Food Share.
Under the proposed legislation, the state would seek a federal waiver for a pilot program changing how Food Share dollars are spent. Similar proposals in other states have been rejected by the federal government.
The bill adds insult to injury to nearly 900,000 people in Wisconsin who received a cut in their food assistance benefits under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last November. Those cuts reduced the food assistance by $89 million annually for Wisconsin’s financially struggling families, making it increasingly difficult for Wisconsin’s low-income population, including 1 out of 3 Wisconsin children (452,000 children), according to the Wisconsin Budget Project.. Children make up a large share of those who get help from SNAP in Wisconsin.
Access to full service grocery stores can also present problems for low-income FoodShare recipients buying “good healthy staples” because of their lack of access to an automobile or their not having such stores within reasonable walking distance or on affordable mass transit routes. All in all, this bill appears to represent a mean-spirited attack on many families and individuals who are already suffering from poverty and a reduction in their FoodShare benefits in Wisconsin, including many of the state’s minorities and growing elderly populations.