Should food stamps be used to buy soda and candy? A Tampa Bay lawmaker says no
Should people who get food stamps in Florida be allowed to buy candy and soda with them? A newly-elected Tampa Bay legislator says no, and he's pushing to change state law to prevent it.
Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto is one of 24 GOP freshmen in the state House and represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties on the North Suncoast. He's also an industrial engineer and a dermatologist who says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children.
"The fact that we're allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease," Massullo said in a Times/Herald interview. "I don't want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don't want government making us sick."
Massullo filed House Bill 593, which would add soft drinks and candy to the list of items that cannot be bought with electronic benefit transfer cards issued as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, along with alcohol, gambling, slot machines, commercial bingo halls and adult entertainment. It's a public health issue but it's also about the extent to which conservative, free-market Republicans want to control behavior.
Three other freshmen, Reps. Randy Fine, Jason Fischer and Don Hahnfeldt, have signed on as co-sponsors of Massullo's bill. No Senate companion bill has yet surfaced, with the start of the 2017 session two weeks away. The House bill will get its first hearing Thursday in a subcommittee chaired by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart. The ranking Democrat on that subcommittee is Rep. Kionne McGhee of Miami.
Read Massullo's two-page bill here.
Similar legislation has been filed in other states, but usually draws strong lobbying opposition from the food and beverage industries. The New York Times last month reported on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and quoted a nutritionist who said it's "pretty shocking" to see taxpayer money being spent to subsidize the nation's soft-drink industry.