Indiana lawmakers seek food assistance restrictions


Tax dollars are being used to pay for junk food in Indiana, and some lawmakers think that's wrong. They are out to change the rules and change what food stamp recipients are feeding their families. The Indiana House of Representatives passed one proposal and sent it to the Senate.

We found Janine Whitfield and her mom Terita inside Bud's Market in Fountain Square. They were stacking their grocery carts full nutritious food, meat, vegetables, canned goods and bread.

Buried beneath it all where were a few bottles of soda and bags of chips, for the kids.

"It is important for them to have snacks," Janine smiled.

It's also important to mention tax dollars paid for everything, including the "junk" food. Although they purchased plenty of balanced meals, Janine has seen plenty of other SNAP recipients who don't.

"Oh yeah, I've seen," she said, rolling her eyes. "I've done seen carts of just junk."

Paid for with food stamps?

"Yes," she said.

That makes her angry "because you are not feeding children what they are supposed to have."

Representative Jud McMillin is more than annoyed.

"I don't think taxpayers want to see their money going for things that are unhealthy for kids. And unhealthy for adults," he explained, standing on the House floor.

The Brookville Republican authored legislation changing what low-income families can buy with their food assistance dollars from a program called SNAP (better known as food stamps.)

"I don't think tax payers necessarily want to see their tax dollars going to buy energy drinks," said McMillin.

Under the current federal rules, just about everything in the grocery food aisles can be bought with what almost everyone calls food stamps. If there is a nutritional label on the box, the bag or the can, it qualifies. That includes soda, chips, ice cream - even those energy drinks.

Legislation passed by the House would limit purchases to foods and beverages the state deems to "have sufficient nutritional value."

No big deal for the Whitfields.

"We want to watch our sodium and sugar and stuff like that," Janine said. But it certainly would be a big change for families snacking on their SNAP dollars.

Restricting food stamp or SNAP purchases to more nutritional foods is more complicated than it sounds. Hunger advocates point out that less healthy foods are often less expensive and more filling than healthier choices.

Also, not every neighborhood has a convenient grocery store. Families have to shop at convenience stores. And any changes Indiana lawmakers approve would likely have to be approved by the USDA, which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.