Grocers, CEOs, food and beverage distributors and private citizens testified for and against House Bill 1035 Wednesday to the Senate Public Health Committee.
House Bill 1035 has been amended three times, passed through the House Public Health Committee as amended and passed through the House of Representatives by a 55-39 vote. The bill would have essentially restricted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries from purchasing items considered “junk food” (soft drinks, chips and candy) under the program’s benefits.
Representative Mary Bentley, HB 1035 sponsor, and bill supporters argued that tax payer dollars, that assist in the funding of SNAP, should go towards helping make families on the program healthier. Bentley said the program costs approximately $582 million annually.
A Navy veteran spoke for the bill stating that growing up, his family was poor and did not indulge in consuming soft drinks or potato chips. While deployed overseas, he said the troops’ funding for food was very little. They made their food stipends work. The veteran said, “They were ‘just fine’ without purchasing soft drinks or potato chips.”
Grocers, convenient store owners and distributors opposed the bill raising questions such as: who and how will products be decided if they are nutritional or not; who is going to manage the implementation; will the system be item or category driven? Some said that the bill raises too many undetermined challenges and may be too costly to implement in small convenient stores. One grocer stated that a register system for a new store location costs his business approximately $115,000.
Some senators also brought forth the theory that the bill “removes freedom of choice because they (SNAP beneficiaries) are poor.” Grocers also stated that for some individuals, their convenient stores are the only food resource they have access to. They proposed that some SNAP beneficiaries receive additional income. And, if restricted from purchasing “junk food” with their SNAP benefits, they would purchase “junk food” with their other source of income instead.
With legislators exchanging statements such as “we try to do good, but sometimes trample people,” and “tax dollars should be used towards nutritional items,” the bill was finally defeated in the Senate Public Health Committee Wednesday.