There's a lot of competition for misnamed bills and government programs. But the so-called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program takes the cake - or should I say the big, fat, sugar-filled, frosting-covered, waistline-expanding cake.
There's nothing nutritional about the so-called nutrition program, also known as FoodShare in Wisconsin. You can't use it to buy Marlboros or Jack Daniels. But you can use your entire government FoodShare check (it's actually a debit card nowadays) to buy Doritos and Pepsi and Coke.
Dean Kaufert, the veteran state representative from Neenah, recently introduced a bill to no longer allow any of that. Predictably, the special interests that make or sell a lot of the stuff he was targeting got their claws into some of his colleagues so, unfortunately, he had to water it down and settle for a version wherein recipients of SNAP money would be required to use just two-thirds of it to buy healthier stuff. The other third could still be used to buy junk food to their heart's content - or, I guess, to its demise.
But still, people like state Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa are practically apoplectic.
Zamarripa claims the bill is an attempt to divide poorer Wisconsinites from the middle class. And, during a recent meeting of the State Affairs Committee, she added this:
"It's important to note that over 60 percent of our Wisconsinites that participate in FoodShare are white Wisconsinites ... Thirty-seven percent of people who are participating in FoodShare are elderly and/or people living with disabilities. The average Wisconsinite participates in FoodShare. This is not somebody who looks underground or looks a little shady."
Kaufert was offended by the remark, and should be because either Zamarripa is a racist herself or - by suggesting proponents of limiting junk food might change their minds if they knew it would affect white people - is suggesting her opponents are.
After I called her office, she released a statement saying she agrees "that race, age and disability status of those using the food stamp program is not relevant to Assembly Bill 110. While it was certainly not the key point I raised, during the debate on this bill we have heard far too many misperceptions and stereotypes and I was simply seeking to counter false perceptions about who utilizes food stamps in Wisconsin."
In other words, she's not apologizing - though she should.
Kaufert is no racist. Nor is he another version of Michael Bloomberg, the New York Nanny who is trying to limit what everyone can eat and drink.
"Bloomberg was trying to tell me how to spend my money," Kaufert said. "We have a right to provide guidelines on what is nutritious because it is taxpayer money."
There is a big difference - especially at a time when folks who are collecting SNAP benefits are often also receiving tax-subsidized medical care.
Kaufert says he would have preferred the first version of his bill, the one that banned taxpayer subsidies of junk food altogether, but had to compromise. The State Affairs Committee passed the current version, and it has now moved on to the full Assembly and the Senate. We'll see what happens in the end, but as another supporter, state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, says, "The bottom line is it's logical."
"We're not going to say you can't have a bag of Doritos with your hamburger. We're not going to say you can't have a soda with your dinner. We are just simply saying if you are going to take the money that we have worked so hard for as taxpayers and use it - which we agree with - there should be some limitations."
Limitations on what we put in our mouths can be a good thing under the right circumstances, after all - although Zamarripa might want to think about limiting what comes out.