LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A recent proposal for the upcoming session would restrict Arkansas recipients of food stamps to only foods that are considered healthy. But should food stamps only be used to purchase healthy food?
KTHV, KSDK's sister station in Little Rock, sat down with the representative that introduced the bill, to find out why she thinks it's right for Arkansas.
Currently, Arkansas is the third most obese state in the country. Around 35% of adults in the state are overweight and another 36% of adults are considered obese.
Those numbers are just some of the reasons State Representative Mary Bentley said changes need to be made to the food stamp program.
"Obesity, it causes so much disease. I read in a public report that 40% of funding that goes to Medicaid and Medicare in our state is through obesity related diseases," Bentley said.
One in six people in Arkansas rely on the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) which is commonly referred to as food stamps. While there are restrictions on what can and cannot be bought with SNAP, food with high sugar content are not on that list.
Bentley said that in the past year spent on the campaign trail, she has listened to her constituents about the issue. She said some are very frustrated over the alleged abuse they see with food stamps.
"They're happy to go to work and help folks out that need it, but they want to be respected, and would like folks to use their stamps to bring food home to their kids,” she said.
As it stands right now, 72% of people using SNAP are families with kids. According to the Hunger Relief Alliance, kids between the ages of 2 to 4 in those families, only 16% are overweight and 15% are obese.
Bentley said she's introduced the bill to restrict food stamp use to foods deemed to be "nutritionally sufficient." She concerned at the "insurmountable funds" for Medicaid down the road. She feels that this bill would be a step in the right direction to balancing both budget and diets.
"How can we get things healthy? Well, things don't happen overnight, so there's little things we can all do together to make a difference. That's really all I want to do; make a difference," Bentley said.
When we shared this story on our Facebook page on December 8th, many people shared their opinions on the proposed bill.
One woman said that, "in theory, it's a great idea. Real food is too expensive. Kids would go hungry. It defeats the purpose." But the common consensus among our viewers was that education should be the first step and should be a major part of the bill if it is passed.
The 91st General Assembly begins January 9th and we will keep you updated on when or if the bill is passed.