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UPDATE: TN lawmaker pulls legislation to ban unhealthy foods for food stamps

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UPDATE: Last week a Tennessee Republican Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia introduced legislation seeking to ban the use of food stamps to buy items without nutritional value. However, due to ongoing discussions regarding this very issue in the newly GOP controlled federal government under an incoming Trump administration, Butt is pulling the legislation in hopes of federal action. 

Since filing HB43, Butt noted the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines eligible food as:   

“Any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP? households. The Act precludes the following items from being purchased with SNAP benefits:  alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, hot food and any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.   

Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items”

The Act goes on to say, “Since the current definition of food is a specific part of the Act, any change to this definition would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome.” 

Butt said that she decided to pull the legislation after learning that no state had ever been granted the sought waiver.

“Essentially, then, I found out that it would literally take an ‘act of congress’ to make any changes to the SNAP program. Many states over the years have asked for a waiver to be able to make changes to the program and not one has ever been granted. That being the case, I have decided not to run the legislation at this time. There is a new administration coming in Washington on Friday and there is the real possibility that state’s rights will be recognized to run their own states, their own programs, defend their own Constitutions and spend their money without hundreds of strings attached from the federal government,” Butt said in a statement.

Count on Channel 3 to follow this developing story.


PREVIOUS STORY: NASHVILLE (AP) - A Tennessee lawmaker has introduced legislation seeking to ban the use of food stamps to buy items without nutritional value.

Republican Rep. Sheila Butt of Columbia says banned items would be those high in calories, sugar and fat, such as sodas, ice cream, candy, cookies and cake. The measure would also prohibit grocers from selling banned items to people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Butt's bill would require the state Department of Human Services to seek a waiver from the federal government to establish a list of which food items would be banned for food stamp recipients, using the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a guide.

More than 1 million Tennesseans received food stamp assistance as of November, totaling nearly $135 million.

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