After returning from the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, legislators in the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committees were tasked with a popular topic aside from the Affordable Care Act and Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, determining the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
House Bill 1035, sponsored by Mary Bentley, R-District 73, attracted a standing room only audience to discuss the bill. The bill is an act to create the Arkansas Healthy Food Improvement Act and restrict the food stamp (SNAP) benefits to healthy foods. If the bill were to pass, it would restrict SNAP beneficiaries from purchasing products such as candy and soft drinks with the program’s EBT card.
Proponents of the bill brought forth the argument that a pound of rice, dried beans or other healthy foods was cheaper than a bag of potato chips or sodas and would allow families to make more portions. As Arkansas has been rated as one of the highest in obesity, it was also suggested that poverty was a contributing factor to obesity.
Concerns among grocery stores and other citizens included economic impact stating some grocery stores could be out hundreds of thousands to possible millions of dollars trying to update register systems to comply with new scanning systems so as to abide by HB1035. Others brought forth the topic of “food deserts” where some residents face the challenge of living 15 miles or more away from a convenience or grocery store. Some suggested that there may be a lack of education, especially in poverty stricken areas of the state, on how to cook healthy food with items such as rice, dried beans, lean meats and eggs.
The House Public Health Committee came to a vote passing the bill 12-6 Tuesday and Amendment 1 was adopted. A second amendment was filed on Thursday, placing it back on the House’s calendar.