Sunday, February 25, 2018
Politics

Drop that Twinkie, because Sen. Ronda Storms knows best

Up in Tallahassee, the irrepressible Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Ronda Knows Best, wants to peek into the grocery carts of poor people and tell them what they can't buy with food stamps — a push that's getting the not-shy Storms attention from National Public Radio to the New York Times.

Should Senate Bill 1658 become law, food stamps could not be used in Florida for "nonstaple, unhealthy foods," as in sugary drinks, sweets from Jell-O to candy to Popsicles to muffins, anything with trans fats, or salty foods including chips, popcorn and pretzels.

And maybe you're saying: Well, why not?

First, a clarification here, so we don't get distracted by red herrings: This law is not about people using food stamps for prime rib and crab legs while the rest of us worry over the price of ground beef. (The average monthly benefit in Florida, by the way, is $167 per person.) It's also not about people using food stamps for alcohol, cigarettes or hot food, which already are not allowed. It's about banning snack foods like Pepsi and Oreos to poor people on government assistance. Storms calls it "No Twinkie Left Behind."

No question, we need to eat healthier. Childhood obesity is alarming. Pushing education, exercise and smart food choices starting with kids are excellent trends.

But I am fascinated when tea party types argue for more government interference, so long as they are not the ones interfered with. You won't likely see the same enthusiasm for, say, a push like one in Massachusetts to heavily tax candy and soda and use the money for nutrition education. (Imagine the rallying cry: "You'll get my Mountain Dew when you pry it from my cold, dead hands!") Because this would be Big Government! A nanny state! And also not just against the needy.

And I haven't noticed our government trying to save us from all that sugar and salt loaded into vending machines at rest stops along our state's highways, either.

And no, the No-Duh Senate ethics bill in the news this week wasn't about telling people what to eat. But wouldn't it be nice to think the effort to keep lawmakers from influencing legislation that could benefit themselves had a shot? Apparently your average lovebug approaching a fast-moving bumper has a better chance of survival.

Storms knows similar attempts to regulate food choices have been shut down in other states by the federal government, but hopes enough jurisdictions wanting this will be a "tipping point." When another senator, a fellow Republican by the way, said it seemed unfair a poor kid couldn't get a birthday cake under this bill, Storms shot back that parents can make their own like she does. Baking a cake from scratch still requires time, and money, by the way.

But there's a much bigger point here: It's easy to demonize people on welfare when the economy is this bad, just as we already have with a new (if embattled) law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients.

Buried in this bill is a bit of common sense and even dignity in a requirement for "culturally sensitive campaigns" to help people on food stamps make better choices. We could even come up with creative ways to reward those choices.

But it's easier to shake your finger and say government knows best, so long as government's not talking about you.

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