NASHVILLE, January 13, 2017– This week, Tennessee State Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) introduced legislation (HB43) to begin reforming how food stamp recipients spend public assistance dollars.
“I go into convenience stores almost every day and see the most non-nutritional foods on the counters and in the aisles marked ‘EBT Approved.’ These are the same foods that we have banned from our children’s lunchrooms,” said Butt. “By allowing their purchase with EBT cards, we are actually enhancing diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity in at-risk communities.”
Butt takes issue with the idea that taxpayers should be subsidizing unhealthy lifestyle choices for those on public assistance programs, which she says taxpayers end up footing the bill for on the back end as well.
“Taxpayers are supporting unhealthy lifestyle choices on the front end and up paying for resulting health care costs on the back end,” explained Butt. “This is very counterproductive, counterintuitive and costly.”
Butt notes that those with EBT cards and enrolled in the Families First Program also receive cash benefits, and that controlling the flow of that cash benefit is not entirely possible.
“Those who use EBT cards and are on the Families First Program also receive a cash benefit. If people want to use that cash benefit for a sweet treat they have that option,” says Butt.
The goal of HB43 will be to have the federal government approve a waiver that gives the State more control over how the EBT program is implemented.
“With House Bill 43, we are requesting a waiver from the federal government to allow Tennessee to make wiser choices in our EBT program,” explains Butt. “Tennessee has an very high rate of obesity and consequently taxpayers are paying a high price for healthcare. This is one simple step in helping reduce unhealthy options that taxpayers are subsidizing. This has been attempted in several states in the past because it is common sense. I believe that within the next year, when health care is front and center, and states may be given more autonomy in how our state programs are run, we have a great opportunity to help enhance the health of Tennesseans.”
Some argue that Butt’s proposal doesn’t allow people to spend their money how they want, but she takes issue with the idea that it’s “their” money to spend.
“When you’re receiving taxpayer dollars, it’s not money that you’ve have earned. It’s money that other people have earned and is redistributed to you. Strings come along with that,” explained Butt. “Even people who don’t receive public assistance don’t get to decide how they spend their money. Our government takes its cut and spends it how they like. Parents don’t even get to decide what our children eat in the lunchroom. At the end of the day, if you’re on public assistance, you shouldn’t be using taxpayer dollars to consume junk food that leads to additional health problems and more taxpayer assistance to address those problems. We don’t allow people to buy alcohol and cigarettes with welfare dollars, why should we allow people to buy junk food that leads to just as many health problems as the aforementioned?”