Proposed Bill Would Ban Florida Food Stamp Recipients From Buying Junk Food

If Republican State Senator Ronda Storms gets her way, Florida residents may soon be prohibited from purchasing "nonstaple, unhealthy foods" like chips, cookies and soda with funds they receive from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to the Los Angeles Times.

Often referred to as "food stamps," SNAP recipients are currently prohibited from using the benefits to purchase alcohol, tobacco and "hot food," among other items.

According to the Times, Storms noticed shoppers at her local grocery store using food stamps to purchase unhealthy junk food, prompting her to push for further restrictions on the usage of SNAP funds.

In addition to encouraging healthy eating, Storms says the restrictions will also help with deep budget cuts the state is currently facing.

"If we're going to be cutting services across the board, then people can live without potato chips, without store-bought cookies, without their sodas," Storms told the Los Angeles Times.

But some Florida senators have said the state would be "playing Godfather" by regulating what food products food stamps recipients can purchase.

"I don't think it's fair that if you're poor your kid can't have a birthday cake or a cupcake," Republican Sen. Nancy Detert said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

But Storms quickly fired back.

"They can have cake," Storms said, according to the paper. "You can buy flour, eggs and sugar, and that makes a cake. I make my kids their own cakes."

In further defense of the proposal, Storms also noted the heavy opposition coming from lobbyists for food industry organizations like the Corn Refiners of America, the Florida Beverage Association, the Florida Petroleum Marketers and the Convenience Store Association.

In a 4-2 vote, the bill passed the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, of which Storms is the chair.

But the bill's passage through the committee in no way assures it will become law. In fact, many are already speculating that the food choice restrictions will be eased or dropped entirely before the larger bill comes to a vote.

A companion bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Scott Plakon, is currently making its way through the Florida House of Representatives, having made it past its second House committee on Monday, according to the Miami Herald.

Plakon, who has said his primary concern is the part of the bill that prevents people from using their government-issued bank cards at ATMs in casinos, internet cafes or strip clubs, believes the language restricting food choices may not make it into the final bill.

"I suspect for the good parts to move forward I'm going to need to make some substantive changes, particularly to the food stamp portion of it," Plakon told the Herald.

The question of how food stamps should be used has been raised before.

In 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Gov. David Paterson unsuccessfully sought permission to add sugary drinks to the list of prohibited goods for city residents receiving assistance.

The program received similar push back from advocacy groups, such as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which claimed it "punishes poor people for the supposed crime of being poor."