Wisconsin Bill Would Treat Organic Milk, Sharp Cheddar, Brown Eggs as "Junk Food"

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Wisconsin ranks 44th in the nation for new job creation. Rather than rolling up their sleeves and finding new and innovative ways to help create jobs, the Wisconsin legislature is spending its time telling people needing food assistance what they should be eating. AB 110, which will be up for a vote in the Assembly on Tuesday, May 7, is geared toward limiting "the amount of food stamp benefits that could be spent on junk food." But some of the fine print of the bill, bizarrely, would ban people from choosing more healthy and less expensive options for their families. The bill is one of many being considered that are unduly punitive of the poor.

Restricting Access to Organic and Other Whole Foods

WIC EggsAs of March 2013, 858,000 Wisconsinites receive FoodShare benefits. The bill, AB 110, would limit FoodShare, Wisconsin's food stamp program funded through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has reported, Governor Scott Walker has already proposed to require all "able-bodied adults" who receive food stamps (and don't have dependent children) to train or search for work in order to continue receiving those benefits. This even though Walker has failed to create the 250,000 jobs he promised when running for office in 2010.

Now Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is sponsoring another bill to further limit FoodShare. Kaufert told the Wisconsin Radio Network that the bill would make it so that a benefit recipient "can't buy six bags of nachos and four cases of soda."

Specifically, the amended program would allow only a third of an individual's FoodShare benefits to be spent on a full range of food as they currently can be. The remaining two-thirds would be subject to the same restrictions as the federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutritional program, with some small modifications. (Both programs, of course, bar restaurant food, cigarettes, alcohol, and pet foods.)

WIC MilkWIC is a federal program intended to supplement food stamp benefits for a particularly vulnerable population of women and young children. As such, it has strict -- and at times very odd -- guidelines to focus these supplemental food dollars on nutritionally dense staple foods.

Wisconsin's AB 110 would mandate that two-thirds of a person's FoodShare benefits could be spent only on foods on the WIC-approved list. Exemptions have been added so recipients can also purchase fish, beef, pork, chicken, and potatoes. Strangely, exemptions were not added so that the "healthy" two-thirds could also be spent on a full range of healthy Wisconsin farm products and fresh food.

The result is that the bulk of your FoodShare dollars can be spent on milk, but not organic milk; on eggs, but only on white eggs by the dozen, not on brown, free-range, or organic eggs; on 100 percent whole wheat bread, but not on gluten-free bread for those with Celiac disease; on slices of American cheese, but not sharp cheddar. FoodShare dollars can be spent on dry beans, but not if they come from a money-saving bulk bin at your local food coop. You can get juice boxes for your children, but only Juicy Juice brand juice boxes.

In order for the state Department of Health Services to implement changes to FoodShare purchasing guidelines, it would need to attain a federal waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). But when Minnesota tried to prohibit purchase of candy or soda in 2004, and New York City tried to ban purchase of certain sugary drinks in 2010, both waiver requests were denied. The USDA points out the lack of clear standards to define foods as healthy or unhealthy.

As Bill Approaches Vote, Public Input Needed

According to the Associated Press, the Assembly committee heard input from food companies, grocery stores, and food banks. They told Wisconsin lawmakers that restrictions "would shame recipients and burden businesses with enforcement." Democrats on the committee -- who voted against the measure -- said it "would stigmatize poor people who already have limited options in buying food."

In addition to Rep. Kaufert, AB 110's supporters include Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette), Kathy Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls), Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg), Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), Paul Tittl (R-Manitowoc), Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay), Samantha Kerkman (R-Powers Lake), Scott Krug (R-Wisconsin Rapids), Pat Strachota (R-West Bend), Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade), Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green), Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin), Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh), Alvin Ott (R-Forest Junction), Mike Endsley (R-Sheboygan), Jeffrey Mursau (R-Crivitz), and Travis Tranel (R-Cuba City). In the Senate, the bill's supporters include Senators Robert Cowles (R-Shawano), Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan), Frank Lasee (R-Casco), and Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend).

As Wisconsin Assemblymembers gather to vote on this bill May 7, these elected officials should expect to hear from those whose lives and food choices would be directly affected by the bill.

NOTE: AB 110 passed the Wisconsin State Assembly on May 7, 2013.


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Vindictiveness and Charity

I find it rather funny how many people seem vehemently angry about the poor receiving benefits wherein they still have some degree of freedom to choose what they eat.

I'm actually rather proud that I help those who cannot help themselves simply by paying my taxes, and particularly proud that recipients are given the dignity of choice. If you are a Christian (or even just pretend to be at Christmas), try to remember that charity is a virtue, and paying your taxes is the least and laziest you can do to help.

It's also worth noting that programs that reduce poverty also reduce crime and disease, so if you're not a Christian and instead believe in might-makes-right objectivism, you're still benefiting from these programs by buying a safer, more stable society.

These restrictions aren't a big deal, but the more we treat the poor like animals, the less dignity we have ourselves.

Most people on Foodshare are children and elderly

I am so amazed at people calling others on Foodshare 'lazy' and 'go get a job'. I have three PT jobs, and also two kids. The benefits that I get doesn't just go towards what I eat, but towards what my kids eat as well. Why should they not have a choice of eating healthy food items because they are poor? Don't you want them to be healthy individuals, who would grow up to not be struggling with poor diet induced diseases? Seriously! Are we living in a society or what? Do you also complain about your tax dollars going towards roads that you probably would never drive on? How about keeping a track of all the places where you don't drive and then complaining about your tax dollars going towards it. Or how about making sure the city is putting out more fires in rich neighborhoods, because I am sure they are contributing more towards the tax money. Most food share recipients are either the elderly or little kids and child poverty is highest in the US compared to all other industrialized countries. Read something and get educated before you start complaining about 'lazy poor people' with multiple jobs struggling to make ends meet. I have no problem with restrictions on junk food, but what about kids who are lactose intolerant, 'American cheese singles' are not healthy either! Not to mention that being jewish, we can only eat food that is kosher and with all these restrictions, we would have to plain eliminate certain stuff from our diet, or pay it out of pocket, which would put strain on all other aspects of our lives. But of course, because we are poor, we should be happy that we are even getting food and then be subject to all health issues that come with poor diet, because we had the misfortune of being poor. Too bad right. Seriously what kind of selfish, self centered people are you?

The essential question

You asked, "Are we living in a society or what?".

Although I assume the question was rhetorical, it goes to the core of the issue. In fact, most conservatives don't believe in "society". They scoff at the notion of "community" and, outside of their personal circle of friends and family, devalue cooperative effort as a means of progress unless it is underpinned by expectations of private profit. To them, we are merely a collection of individuals existing within a civilization. Social Darwinism, tempered only at the whims of a relative handful of financially capable private individuals who happen to be feeling charitable at any given moment or during any given economic atmosphere.

The word "society" implies "social" which, as we all know, leads to socialism. Community - Communist. Same thing. Conservatives want none of it. It's every man, and perhaps his family, for himself. Empathy is something cons reserve only for those they know personally. All others are deserving only of resentment and hate.

Food police?

Impeach the idiots!

I really wish people would think.

How pathetic that this topic would be used to produce a class war. I do not receive food benefits but I will tell you as a disabled person that has worked over 35 years, paid taxes, and now because of the cost of living have to really stretch those buckos; I choose organic because they are, really, in the long run, less expensive. We all pay for it on one end or the other. Either you eat a little less and eat good, nutritious food and avoid some medical bills; or you eat processed crap and pay the doctor. I have chosen to stay as healthy as I can and because someone is getting assistance they should be able to choose for themselves and not be forced to purchase processed crap! This is what would be done with this law. You get just so much money and must be used for food. I can see not allowing snacks and sodas and such but the person should be able to choose organic if they want.

Some of it makes sense but....

I understand people should not use this for junk (soda, chips, etc) but it seems contradictory that one can't get organic items as they have been proven to be healthier just as soda & sugary snacks have been proven not to be healthy. I have DIAGNOSED Celiac Disease and cannot have Wheat, Barley, Rye or Spelt, I will be hospitalized if I do. Although it seems logical to make my own bread, it is not always cheapest since I have to keep a minimum 3 gluten free flours on hand that are NOT cheap. I think one with these conditions should have the option of buying gluten free items as well as the ingredients that make them. Stop kick those that are already down.

I believe their is money for special flour

1/3 of the vouchers can be used to buy whatever you want.

My opinion

I work hard for my money and buy the Value brand bread, the value brand milk, cheese etc. I shudder at the fact that people supplied with a healthy amount of funds in forms of food assistance have the option to choose quality brand name food products. If your on a food assistance program you should be limited to the "value" brands. I am limited to them because my budget (which i earn myself) limits me. Your lazy and broke and you get to eat farm fresh cage free eggs? NO. Limiting food stamps usage is a grand idea, but needs to be limited even further! doing so would cut back on the WIC and Food-share budgets immensely. I mean come on starving people in Africa would kill for some "great value" bread and butter. Quit whining and get a job.

Your choices are your own

Every person chooses how to budget their own money. You don't know someone else's circumstance. Maybe you choose to drive a nicer car or have material things and you skimp on your food budget. Our family drives 2 used cars and doesn't spend money on clothing etc unless it is hugely discounted or bought used. We don't color our hair or get our nails done or have smart phones or cable TV... We spend our money on whole foods though. We buy farm fresh eggs and organic milk and we make our own bread and such things. I don't get food stamps and our family of 4 live on a meager budget but we still choose healthy unprocessed foods and do a lot of cooking from scratch and don't eat out to make up the difference. For example, you can make a whole lot of delicious healthy yogurt with one gallon of organic milk... Way more than you can get for the same price when buying cheap store brand yogurt by the cup that is loaded with fake sugar. Just sayin'... Limiting people from buying soda and candy I do understand but limiting healthy food choices because some people are ignorant to the health costs that processed foods impose on individuals and on our goverment funded health programs is foolish.

Don't be ignorant.

It's not that easy anymore. My fiance was just laid off from his job, has sent in over 30 applications in the past week (he hasn't even gotten his last paycheck yet so he can't apply for unemployment), and has not heard back from a single posted position he's applied for. I make 8$ an hour; if we didn't have our savings to fall back on, then he would have to get SNAP or something of the like. Even buying "value brands" puts our grocery bills higher than what I would be able to afford without my savings. We both have school debt which further perpetuates the fact that we'd be utterly dependent on food stamps if it weren't for us saving up money when he had his job.

On top of that, I am lactose intolerant and so I vouch for the "nut milks" (almond milk in particular) because lactose free is more expensive and less healthy.

Wisconsin is 44th in the country for new job growth, and not all poor people or SNAP/WIC dependent people are unemployed. How do you propose finding a job when there's none to find?