A Republican lawmaker in Missouri thinks poor people abuse food stamps and wants to ban them from buying what he deems are “luxury items.”
State Representative Rick Brattin has introduced legislation that would prohibit the purchase of “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak” with food stamps.
“The intention of the bill is to get the food stamp program back to its original intent, which is nutrition assistance,” Brattin says.
While cookies, chips, energy drinks, and soft drinks would indeed align with the food stamp program’s mission to provide nutrition as nutrition experts have discussed limiting the purchase of such items for participants, most people believe banning seafood and steak is taking the measure a step too far.
“It just seems really repressive,” says Mark Rank, author of the book Living on the Edge: The Realities of Welfare in America and professor at Washington University. “I don’t see how it makes any sense to ban some of these foods. Fish is something that should really be in your diet. And steak, what does that mean in this context?”
Brattin says he does realize his bill could use some fine-tuning of the language.
“My intention wasn’t to get rid of canned tuna and fish sticks, but I have seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards,” he said. “When I can’t afford it on my pay, I don’t want people on the taxpayers’ dime to afford those kinds of foods either.”
Rank maintains that Brattin’s position is a reminder of a long history of conservative Republicans’ stigmatization of welfare recipients like former President Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen” story. Though the system is far from perfect, Rank says it’s hardly the free for all it’s made out to be by some.
“There are some isolated cases of abuse, sure,” Rank says. “But they are hardly representative of what the people struggling to get by on SNAP are actually buying. These people are spending their money extremely frugally. More than anything else, I think this is about controlling people. We should be treating people who are in poverty the same way we treat everyone else.”