April 3, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Food Stamp Changes Proposed That Will Affect You

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Two major food stamp changes that have been proposed in the Legislature will ultimately have a serious and likely negative affect for every FoodShare user.  Both bills will have a hearing next week in the Assembly.  FoodShare, like WisconsinShares are integral to our community’s success and growth.  Whenever legislation is introduced that seeks to make such dramatic changes to the people in our communities, we need to be both aware and informed so that we can make our voices heard. 

AB 82 is a proposal to allow criminal penalties for “trafficking” food stamp benefits.  In 2011, news media in Milwaukee drew attention to the trafficking of Quest cards.  Cards were sold to retailers for cash through the use of social media sites like Facebook.  AB 82 prohibits several actions including:  buying, selling, stealing, or exchanging benefits for cash or any other compensation; reselling of any food purchased with benefits; and, exchanging benefits for firearms or weapons.  Although the bill appears to be common sense, we must be considerate of the all the implications of this legislation.  AB 82 is written broadly and could lead to unintended consequences, such as criminalizing the use of Quest cards by social service agencies engaged in charitable work.  Also of concern are the bill’s stringent criminal penalties.  A first-time offender under the new law (for benefits over $100) would be charged with a Class I felony.  AB 82 is also introduced in the Senate at SB 78.  Its sponsors are Rep. Samantha Kerkman(R-Powers Lake) and Sen. Alberta Darling(R-River Hills)

AB 110 would create a pilot program in which FoodShare users would only be allowed to buy food defined by the state as having “sufficient nutritional value”.  Under AB 110, the state government would have the power to dictate which foods Quest cards holders can and cannot purchase with their cards.  According to the authors, the intent is to prevent the purchase of junk food – chips, soda, candy, etc.   Yet, how far reaching will the state’s list be?  Perhaps ice cream, chocolate milk, or even pudding will be barred from purchase.  

As you can see, AB 110 is highly controversial.  The Hunger Task Force, one of my go to places for hunger and food policy, had this to say about AB 110:

“Hunger Task Force works to feed hungry people with respect and dignity. Hunger does not respect age, sex, race or background. Many visitors to local pantries and soup kitchens never would have anticipated the unforeseen circumstances that put them in the position of asking for help. We do not believe that people struggling to feed themselves are second class citizens. We do not believe that the hungry should be made to grovel before they are fed. One of the benefits of the FoodShare program is it gets people out of the food pantry system and into the grocery store. The proposed legislation turns those shopping for groceries with FoodShare into second class citizens, unable to choose what they can purchase and eat.” (email to Legislators 03/19/13)

Supporters of AB 110 have already gone back to the stereotypical images used by the extreme right led by Ronald Reagan of welfare queens buying junk food with Quest cards, while talking on a new iPhone, and then driving off in a BMW.  We know the truth of our community.  We know hunger and its real impact.  We must make our voices heard.

The Assembly Committee on State Affairs hearing on AB 82 and AB 110 will be this coming Tuesday, April 9th at 8:30am in Room 300 Northeast of the State Capitol in Madison.  You are welcome to attend and provide testimony.  If you cannot attend contact my office and we will register you in opposition or support or provide your comments to the committee.  You can always reach me at 414-342-7176 or at sen.taylor@legis.wisconsin.gov.

These issues are too important for our community to be silent.