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Arkansas Might Ban Buying Junk Food With Food Stamps

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Arkansas will ask the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prohibit purchases of unhealthy foods with food stamps if a new bill in the state legislature succeeds, Arkansas Online reports.

State Rep. Mary Bentley proposed legislation recently that would direct the Arkansas Department of Human services to ask the USDA to grant a waiver so the state could limit what food is eligible for welfare recipients to purchase.

Arkansas has a 34 percent obesity rate, one of the worst in the country, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The state had nearly half a million people enrolled on food stamps last year, also called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and paid out $648.8 million in federal benefits, USDA reports.

The bill doesn’t say exactly what foods would be banned from the food stamps program, but “chips and Cokes and candy bars” would likely be on the list of prohibited items, Bentley told Arkansas Online. “People can go buy Red Bull with food stamps, and that’s not encouraging health,” Bentley said.

Even if the legislation passes the bill when the Arkansas legislature convenes in January, the USDA would have to approve the waiver, something the agency has not done in the past.

Maine has tangled with USDA after the federal agency refused to grant a waiver requested in 2013 to ban snack and soda items from the food stamps program. Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage said in June that USDA has a double standard, on the one hand advocating healthy nutrition while at the same time using taxpayer money to subsidize a “steady diet of Mars bars and Mountain Dew” for poor people on welfare.

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