Senator wants food-stamp health restrictions

February 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Should people be allowed to buy junk food with food stamps? One state senator doesn't think so. He wants to place restrictions on using the stamps. Not everyone agrees with his idea.

With few exceptions, food stamp recipients in the CalFresh Program can buy virtually anything edible at the grocery store, even junk food.

Now a lawmaker wants taxpayers to stop footing the bill for unhealthy eating.

State Senator Mike Rubio (D-Bakersfield) is proposing to ban food stamps from being used to purchase things like chips, donuts and soda. And in counties where it's allowed, he doesn't want benefits spent at fast food restaurants either.

"It moves towards a position where the government should give people what they need rather than what they want," said Rubio.

Rubio hopes to curb the obesity problem. He says many food stamp recipients end up with medical problems from eating poorly and taxpayers are likely to also pay for their care.

But opponents say it's not fair to target just one group.

"We don't think that we should just be singling out low-income families, or the CalFresh Program, for that kind of attention," said Mike Herald, a spokesman for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. "Everyone in society -- this is a societal problem, not a low-income problem."

The idea, though, is not unheard of.

Rubio says the ban won't be difficult to administer. The Women, Infants and Children Program, known as WIC, already restricts purchases to healthy foods.

Still, food stamp recipients think limiting their spending is ludicrous.

"It's crazy because you're telling me what I can and cannot spend my food stamps on? If I'm the type of person that wants some chips, I should be able to buy chips with food stamps," said Tamara Beverly, whose daughter receives food stamps.

"They need to not make that a law because it's not fair to the kids. Some kids, that's their only way of having any type of money," said Adriell Coleman, who grew up on food stamps.

Other states have tried to implement similar spending restrictions, but the federal government has never granted the waiver because of the cost to create a system that can weed out junk food.

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