House panel passes sweetened food stamp bill

Feb 13, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on February 13, 2012:

House panel sweetened food stamp bill

By Gray Rohrer

A controversial provision prohibiting food stamps recipients from using government cash assistance from purchasing sugary, unhealthy foods was stripped from HB 1401 before passing out of the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he is against the idea of welfare in the first place, but found the idea of imposing government restrictions on the diets of low-income recipients unsavory.

“Thank God there’s still freedom and a fat guy can get a Coke once in a while,” Baxley said.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, still bans the use of Electronic Benefit Transfer cards — the cards used in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that distributes welfare benefits — at strip clubs, liquor stores, casinos and card rooms and at out-of-state locations. According to House staff analysis, there are about 93,000 recipients receiving about $177.5 million in TANF benefits this fiscal year, but only a small fraction of EBT transactions took place at the undesired locations targeted in the bill.

“Any taxpayer dollars saved by this, I consider it a good thing,” Plakon said.

Republicans applauded Plakon for agreeing to take the ban on sweets out of the bill, but warned they would fight his legislation if the Senate version, SB 1658, which contains the food stamps sweets ban and has already passed through two committees, comes to the House floor.

“One concern that I have is that the Senate bill continues to move forward without amendments,” said Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who offered the amendment to get rid of the food stamps sweets ban.

The bill passed on a 9-5 vote with Democrats lining up against the bill. While they backed the amendment, some Democrats on the panel chafed at what they considered an attack on low-income people.

“I can’t really support this beating up on people in need and having restrictions on them,” said Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood.

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