On Friday evening, Tennessee state Representative Sheila Butt retweeted the quote "Before you assume, try asking first." That's a nice 35-character philosophy, but it's not an approach she takes with her constituents. Earlier in the week, Butt, a self-described "unapologetic Conservative," proposed a bill that would ban families who use food stamps from buying groceries that she's decided are bad for them—things like ice cream, cake, or candy bars.
Why? Because Butt thinks that they're just going to sit around eating Oreo Cakesters all day, getting fat on the government's bill. "Taxpayers are supporting unhealthy lifestyle choices on the front end and up paying for resulting health care costs on the back end," Butt said in a statement. "This is very counterproductive, counterintuitive, and costly." (Here's where we'll just pause to remind everyone that Butt is the same state representative who was criticized for suggesting that the country needed a "Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP (National Association for the Advancement of White People )," and she's also the author of the delightful sounding children's book "Does God Love Michael's Two Daddies").
Butt's bill would also allow the state government to make a list of banned foods that families on the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) could not buy with their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) debit cards. In addition, if individuals—or businesses—bought or sold, say, a banned box of Betty Crocker cake mix, they could be fined between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on their number of prior food-related offenses.
Critics of the bill have pointed out that this legislation punishes SNAP families for a problem that affects a huge number of other equally huge Tennessee residents. Being fat isn't restricted to families on food stamps—far from it, especially in Butt's theoretical backyard. According to the State of Obesity project, Tennessee is the 9th fattest state in the country, with 33% of adults falling into the category of "obese."
It also punishes those whose fixed food budgets don't always allow them to make healthier choices, which are often more expensive than the convenience foods that Butt wants to ban.
"I've got four girls, so when I go into the store and there's a table here with brownies for $1.99, but there's a set up here with fresh fruits and vegetables for $5 to $7, I'm going to pick the brownies," Teon Lewis, an EBT user, told WSMV.
According to the USDA's list of food items that are currently eligible for SNAP, "soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers and ice cream" are all permitted, as are bakery cakes. (The only real food restrictions are on hot foods or "foods that will be eaten in the store.") The USDA recently published a report on the purchases that SNAP households make, and soft drinks were the top item, but soda was the No. 2 purchase by non-SNAP households, right behind milk.