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Arkansas Lawmakers Advance Junk Food Ban for Food Stamps

2 min read

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas would ban food stamps from being used to purchase soda or junk food under a proposal endorsed by a legislative committee Tuesday, joining a list of Republican-led states hopeful the Trump administration will allow such restrictions to the federal program.

The bill approved by the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on a 12-6 vote requires the state to prohibit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from being used to purchase products with “insufficient nutritional value.” The ban, which goes before the full House later this week, would also require federal approval.

The lawmaker behind the proposal, Republican Rep. Mary Bentley, said it would ensure that food stamp dollars are being used for their intended purpose and encourage healthier habits in one of the most obese states in the nation. More than 398,000 people are on the food stamp program in Arkansas.

“Food stamps are meant to provide for families, for kids to have something to eat,” she said.

The federal government has denied similar bans from other states, but Bentley said she was optimistic that President-elect Donald Trump’s administration would allow Arkansas to impose the restriction. Similar legislation has been filed in Tennessee and New Mexico.

Bentley’s proposal doesn’t specify which foods would be prohibited and would require the state Department of Human Services, which administers the food stamp program, to identify foods that have “sufficient nutritional value.” The state would use guidelines for the federal Women, Infants and Children program as a basis for those restrictions.

Advocacy groups say the restriction is unfair to low-income Arkansas residents who live in areas where more nutritional options are either unavailable or too expensive.

“We do have many families who live in ‘food deserts.’… and choices are limited for folks in many of these communities,” former state Rep. Kathy Webb, executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, told the committee. “People rely on dollar stores and convenience stores as their primary grocery store because there is not any alternative.”

The measure also faces criticism from grocery stores, who say the restriction will impose new burdens and costs on them. One grocery chain, Edwards Food Giant, estimated it could have to spend $1 million to upgrade its cash registers to comply.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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