LITTLE ROCK — A Senate committee Wednesday rejected a House bill that would allow food stamps to be used only for products the state deems sufficiently nutritious.
House Bill 1035 by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, failed in the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee in a voice vote. It passed in the House last week in a 55-39 vote.
The measure would require the state Department of Human Services to request a federal waiver allowing it to prohibit the use of benefits under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to buy food or beverages with insufficient nutritional value.
DHS would have to determine what items have sufficient nutritional value, using the federal guidelines for the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Bentley told the committee Arkansas is one of the unhealthiest states in the nation and said her bill would improve the health of Arkansans who receive food stamps. She said the bill also would ensure that taxpayer dollars are well spent and save money on health care costs.
She acknowledged that the federal government has never granted such a waiver, but she said she believes Donald Trump’s administration might.
“We have a new administration in D.C. I think has got a little more common sense than we have had in the past,” she said.
Several business owners and executives spoke against the bill, saying it would be costly for retail stores to implement, would encourage customers in border cities to shop across state lines, could hurt families with limited options and would be a nightmare to enforce.
“What becomes a problem is the patchwork of laws that vary from one state to another, particularly for this as a federal program,” said Sonja Hubbard, CEO of E-Z Mart.
Bentley said after the meeting she does not plan to ask the committee to consider HB 1035 again, but she said she will look at Maine’s attempt to take similar action and will ask the state’s congressional delegation to address the issue.
“I’m not going to give up on this issue. It’s too important,” she said.