A Republican proposal would place restrictions on the types of food that could be purchased with food stamps in Wisconsin.
State lawmakers will discuss that bill, along with a proposal to require drug testing for those seeking state job training and unemployment insurance, on Thursday in the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform.
A bill proposed by Rep. Rob Brooks, R-Saukville, would require that two-thirds of all purchases made with FoodShare benefits must be spent on foods approved under the federal nutritional program for women, infants and children (WIC) or beef, pork, chicken, fish, fresh produce and white potatoes.
Under the bill, SNAP benefits could not be used to buy crab, lobster, shrimp or any other variety of shellfish.
Grocers would be allowed to swipe a customer's benefit card before scanning any items being purchased.
Brooks said the bill is designed to realign the program with its intent to provide supplemental nutritional assistance. He cited "anecdotal and perceived abuses," adding that his bill is designed to target abuse, not fraud.
"My intent is not to stigmatize, not to shame anyone," Brooks said.
But Democrats say the bill would do just that and that current perceptions about abuse of the system are based on nothing but anecdotal evidence.
"It's a restriction that's designed just to make the lives of those that are already struggling that much harder," said Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison. "And instead, we should be focusing not on the foods people buy but on putting people to work by creating jobs that get people off of FoodShare."
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said the bill holds more questions than answers about rationale and implementation.
To illustrate Democrats' opposition, Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, held a platter of four Wisconsin cheeses.
All four were cheddar. One was shredded and three were in block form. Three displayed flags that said "GOP Prohibited." One flag said "GOP Approved."
The approved cheese was a block of mild cheddar. Two sharp cheddars — one shredded and one block — were not approved. One mild cheddar was not approved because it was too large, Goyke said.
"The stated goals of this bill are nutrition and fraud," said Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit. "When you look at something like this cheese plate, there's no evidence of sharp cheddar fraud. People are not buying sharp cheddar in order to defraud FoodShare, and there's no nutritional difference. So if those are the stated goals, the bill is not accomplishing either."
A coalition of businesses and associations in the food and beverage industry are opposing the bill. A memo to lawmakers from groups including the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association, Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, Kwik Trip, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers and Wisconsin State Cranberry Association says the bill would harm their businesses, "dramatically increase government power" and place checkout clerks in a difficult position.
Fourteen groups are registered against the bill, according to the Government Accountability Board.
"Though well-intentioned, Assembly Bill 177 is a threat to both job creation in our state and our right to decide for ourselves what to put in our grocery carts," the memo reads. "While we recognize the intent of this bill is to promote healthy choices, the unintended consequences of the proposal will do far more harm than good."
Because food stamp benefits are funded by the federal government, the state would need to obtain a federal waiver in order to impose restrictions on food purchases.
No state has received such a waiver, but Brooks said he believes his bill is less restrictive than some proposed in other states and has a better chance of being implemented.
A similar bill was passed in the Assembly last year, but died in the Senate.