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  • Writer's pictureRachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Lawmakers talk banning soft drinks, candy for Kansans receiving food assistance


Rep. Heather Meyer pushed back against claims made by an outside lobbying group during a Feb. 13 committee hearing. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)


By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — Legislation that would prevent Kansans from purchasing soft drinks and candy with food stamps met resistance Tuesday, continuing a series of hearings over what changes are needed to help the state’s most vulnerable residents. 


Two Democrats on the House Welfare Reform committee said the committee, headed by Rep. Francis Awerkamp, R-St. Marys, has been inundated by bills that are unhelpful at the least. 


Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, said he was “appalled and upset” by committee activities. 

“It just seems like the members of this committee that are Republicans and most of the Republican party, instead of making efforts to do things that are going to be beneficial for the residents of this state, they pick on a small and select group of individuals and those individuals are the poor and underserved,” Carr said. 


The latest bill, heard Tuesday, was requested for introduction by Awerkamp. It would have the Department of Children and Families secretary request a waiver from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allowing the state to prohibit the purchase of candy and soft drinks with food assistance benefits.  If the request was denied, the secretary would send annual requests asking for the change until the waiver is granted. 


Roy Lenardson, lobbyist for Florida-based organization Opportunity Solutions Project, which is the lobbying arm of the Foundation for Government Accountability, was the first to endorse the bill. 


Lenardson said the legislation would tackle obesity in Kansas.


“What is nutritious about Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, Cheetos and Twinkies?” Lenardson asked. “And how are sugary drinks and candy helping the issue of food insecurity?”


Because Kansas law defines “candy”  as a preparation of sugar, honey or other natural or artificial sweeteners that does not contain flour, Twinkies and Cheetos would not be included on the list of banned foods.


Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said the sugar ban would lead to healthier choices, and that she didn’t let her own children drink pop when they were growing up. 


“I don’t want the people using SNAP to make unwise choices if we can help them make wise choices by buying milk instead of pop or water,” Humphries said. 


Carr, along with Rep. Heather Meyer, D-Overland Park,  said the legislation could hurt Kansans living in food deserts. Meyer, a social worker who previously used SNAP, pushed back on Lenardson’s characterization of sugar causing obesity. 


“As a fat person, I can guarantee you that the reason why I am fat is not because I eat candy and soda,” Meyer said. “As someone who was previously a recipient of SNAP benefits, the purchase of candy and soda did not lead to my obesity. … Please do not make those assumptions and don’t bring us evidence that is not from medical professionals.” 


Multiple organizations, including a representative from the area’s food banks and a child advocacy group, spoke against the legislation, warning the proposal would create administrative burdens for the state government and would damage hungry Kansans’ ability to choose their food without limitation. 


Previously, the committee heard from a national libertarian group’s CEO about the  growing statewide problem of homelessness, continuing its habitof seeking guidance from out-of-state conservative think tanks. During last year’s session, committee lawmakers heard a bill criminalizing homeless people.


Earlier this session, committee lawmakers heard about the dangers of “welfare fraud” from Sam Adolphsen, policy director at the FGA. Adolphsen urged restrictions on state programs such as food assistance and Medicaid. 


“Bill after bill, committee meeting after committee meeting, they pick on that group of people that have a very limited voice if they have a voice at all…” Carr said. “I’m really a little p***** off.”


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com. 

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