Lawmaker wants to ban people from using food stamps to buy junk food

Cashier at a grocery store (Photo: US Air Force / Erin R. Babis)

(CBS News) — If one Texas lawmaker has his way, people on food stamps in the Lone Star state will be banned from using using their benefits to buy energy drinks, soda, cookies, candy or potato chips.

Rep. Briscoe Cain recently proposed legislation seeking to take junk food out of low-income shopping carts, saying he’s concerned that poor eating habits among those getting food benefits are leading to health troubles. The measure “seeks to curb the spread of diabetes and other health complications among Texas in at-risk populations by eliminating sugary drinks and snacks from the state’s nutrition assistance program,” the Republican state representative said, according to local media outlets.

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The proposed bill defines “energy drink” as a beverage containing at least 65 milligrams of caffeine per eight fluid ounces. Coffee would still allowed, as would fruit and vegetable juice.

Fighting fraud?

The measure is only the latest in a series of proposals in Texas related to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Lawmakers in the state in April sent to the governor legislation that would expand the state’s work requirement for food-stamp recipients. Another proposal introduced earlier this year would require photographs on the government-issued cards used by the state’s food stamp program, which the bill’s sponsors say would prevent fraud.

“It’s a problem I see in my community every day,” one sponsor, state Representative Dade Phelan, reportedly said. “There are individuals who take advantage of a program that’s designed for the most vulnerable Texans, and I want to make sure those taxpayer resources go to the people who actually need them.”

A 2018 congressional report found that for every $10,000 paid out by food-stamp programs across the U.S, just $21 was found to have been lost to fraud. Phelan, however, maintains those figures would be higher if there were greater oversight of the program, which in Texas provides low-income households with an average benefit of $259 per month.

Roughly 40 million Americans struggle with not having enough to eat, with children the most vulnerable, according to government data.