Florida Politics

Should food stamps be used to buy soda and candy? No, says lawmaker

Should candy be eligible for purchase with food stamps? A Florida lawmaker, who is a physician, says no and has proposed legislation to ban the purchase of candy and soda under the EBT program.
Should candy be eligible for purchase with food stamps? A Florida lawmaker, who is a physician, says no and has proposed legislation to ban the purchase of candy and soda under the EBT program. AP

A newly elected Florida legislator says people who qualify for food stamps should not be allowed to buy candy and soda with them, and he’s pushing to change state law to prevent it.

Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo of Lecanto is one of 24 GOP freshmen in the Florida House and represents parts of Hernando and Citrus counties. He’s also a dermatologist who says that something has to be done about the rising rates of obesity in the U.S., especially among children.

“The fact that we’re allowing junk food as the most common purchased item leads to non-nutritional states and disease,” Massullo said in a Herald/Times interview. “I don’t want the government to get into the nitty-gritty of our lives, but I also don’t want government making us sick.”

By 2030, he said, quoting a projection he had seen, almost 60 percent of the population in Florida will be obese, which will be at a staggering cost to the state.

Massullo filed House Bill 593, which would add soft drinks and candy to the list of items banned under the EBT cards issued through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), along with alcohol, gambling, slot machines, commercial bingo and adult entertainment.

Asked about banning food stamp purchases of other foods with low nutritional value such as potato chips, pastries or sugar-laden cereals, Massullo said: “I draw the line with sodas and candy. Those are the two most common things.”

Three freshmen, Reps. Randy Fine, Jason Fischer and Don Hahnfeldt, have signed on as co-sponsors. No Senate companion bill has yet surfaced. The House bill will get its first hearing Thursday in a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart.

Similar legislation has been filed in other states, but usually draws strong lobbying opposition from the food and beverage industries. The New York Times last month reported on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it said showed food stamp recipients spend 5 cents of every dollar on soda. The report quoted a nutritionist who said it’s “pretty shocking” to see taxpayer money in effect subsidizing the soft-drink industry.

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