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VOL. 132 | NO. 14 | Thursday, January 19, 2017

Memphis Lawmaker: Junk Food Bill Would Bully the Poor

SAM STOCKARD, Nashville Correspondent

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State Rep. Joe Towns Jr. of Memphis isn’t surprised that Rep. Sheila Butt dropped her bill limiting “junk food” for food stamp recipients.

Joe Towns

“She should because she’s lost her damn mind,” Towns, a Memphis Democrat, said Tuesday. “How are you going to put out a bill to tell people what they can and can’t eat?”

Not only do people “stretch” their money as far as they can when they’re receiving government assistance, he said, many of them live in “food deserts” where fresh foods aren’t available close to their homes.

In November 2016 alone, according to reports, Shelby County residents received more than $31 million of $134 million provided statewide through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Butt introduced the bill last week seeking a federal waiver to stop food-stamp or SNAP recipients from using their EBT cards to buy non-nutritional foods such as high-sugar candy, chips, ice cream and soft drinks. According to Tennessee Journal article by Tom Humphrey, Butt opted to drop the bill as President-elect Donald Trump takes office in hope the Republican-controlled Congress will revise food-stamp rules.

According to the report, Butt also said she found out it would take an “act of Congress” to change the SNAP program, since no state has ever been given a waiver. The Columbia Republican said her bill initiated a statewide debate, nevertheless, about healthy diets and food purchases.

Towns, however, said the bill was nothing more than “bullying the poor.”

“I can’t think of anything more communistic than that,” he said.

If the state is going to try to control what people on subsidies eat, then it also should put rules on legislators, who receive a per diem for meals, Towns said.

Sen. Lee Harris agreed.

“I didn’t know if there was a provision for lawmakers,” said Harris, a Memphis Democrat. “I was prepared to live by the long arm of the state as envisioned by Sheila Butt.”

Towns added that lawmakers should be focused on “creating a climate where people can thrive” rather than “beating up on the weak.”

Low-income Tennesseans also tend to buy higher-calorie and sugary food because it is less than expensive than healthier and more wholesome foods, Towns said.

Milk prices, for instances, are too high, he said, pointing toward a class-action lawsuit involving price fixing of milk and milk products.

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 56 56 9,658
MORTGAGES 49 49 10,665
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 10 10 1,299
BUILDING PERMITS 212 212 21,170
BANKRUPTCIES 49 49 6,157
BUSINESS LICENSES 34 34 3,973
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 38 38 2,930
MARRIAGE LICENSES 28 28 2,049