FoodShare Reform Bill Passes Committee

MacIver News Service | April 30, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] After some major changes, a bill that would prevent individuals from buying junk food with their Wisconsin Food Share benefits was approved by the Assembly Committee on State Affairs on Wednesday.

“It’s a step forward. I’m pleased we were able to take our time to talk to folks, the people who will be affected, and the interest groups involved,” Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) told the MacIver News Service. “We made some substantive changes and hopefully made it a better bill.”

Initially, the bill would have created a pilot program and required 100 percent of Food Share benefits be spent on “staple” products.

The amended bill reduces the 100 percent down to 66.6 percent. However, the program would no longer have to go through a pilot phase. It would be live from the start throughout Wisconsin.

“It’s a reasonable compromise and I think it’s easy to sell to the person on the street. Would I have liked [the percentage] to be higher? Yes, but this is what I was able to sell to the legislature,” Kaufert said.

If the bill becomes law, the Department of Health Services would first have to get permission from the federal government to alter the program because Food Share is funded by federal taxes. After that, the department would have two years to implement it.

That means creating a system where cash registers throughout the state would only allow a customer to spend one-third of their total Food Share benefits on non-approved items. Kaufert’s office says that’s not as complicated as it sounds.

His office says DHS was already planning on completely revamping the cards to make them more programmable. The state also currently offers a program called WIC (Wisconsin Women, Infants and Children), which provides benefits cards that can be used to buy very specific items related to pregnancy and infant care.

In fact, the plan for Kaufert’s Food Share program is to start with the WIC list and expand it to include more “staple food products.”

The bill passed committee on a 7-2 vote.