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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Grant Hodges (left), R-Rogers, is shown with Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, in this photo.

Bills that would expand the state food stamp program's work requirement, require recipients to cooperate in child-support collection efforts and bar them from using their benefits to buy certain kinds of junk food cleared a House committee on Tuesday.

House Bill 1775, sponsored by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, would make an education and training program mandatory for about 50,000 food stamp recipients: those age 50-60 and those who have dependent children who are all at least 6 years old.

Those recipients are now exempt from the program's requirement to work at least 80 hours a month on work or other approved activities or participate in the education and training program.

House Bill 1731, sponsored by Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers, would disqualify from the program parents who refuse to cooperate with the state in establishing paternity of a child and seeking a court order for child support.

Parents who pay child support would also have to stay up to date on their payments.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

House Bill 1743, also sponsored by Bentley, would bar participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food stamp program is formally known, from using their benefits to buy candy, soft drinks, energy drinks or dietary supplements.

Proponents of HB1775 and HB1731 told the House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor that those bills would help move food stamp recipients out of poverty, while HB1743's supporters said it would make them healthier and reduce the number of Arkansans who are considered obese or overweight.

Tomiko Townley, advocacy director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, spoke against all three bills.

She said HB1775 and HB1731 would cause families to lose food stamp benefits, while HB1743 would pose challenges for the recipients as well as grocery stores.

"Obesity rates in the state are a problem, but not a SNAP participant problem," she said.

The food stamp program was serving 363,631 Arkansans as of December, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program.

Arkansas reinstituted the work requirement for non-disabled food stamp recipients age 19-49 with no dependent children in 2016, after the state's unemployment rate fell by enough that it no longer qualified for an exemption.

Since then, the number of recipients on the program who are subject to the requirement has fallen from about 20,000 to about 4,000, said Mary Franklin, director of the state Department of Human Services' Division of County Operations.

An October 2017 report by the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service listed eight states as having child support cooperation requirements for custodial or noncustodial parents or both. Two of those states -- Maine and Mississippi -- also required noncustodial parents to stay up to date on their payments.

Officials with Arkansas' Office of Child Support Enforcement said installing a computer system to implement HB1731 would cost more than $1.4 million.

They said the bill would cause the office's caseload to increase by 11,600 cases, requiring the office to increase its staff by about 40 people.

In addition to advocates for the poor, the opponents of HB1743 included Charlie Spakes, president of the Arkansas Grocers and Retail Merchants Association, and Paul Rowton, vice president of Edward's Food Giant, who said it would be difficult to identify which items qualified as candy or soft drinks.

Joe Thompson, president of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said a group formed to implement Gov. Asa Hutchinson's anti-obesity initiative supports HB1743.

A similar bill sponsored by Bentley cleared the House in 2017, but failed to clear the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor.

HB1775 and HB1731 on Tuesday cleared the 20-member House committee in divided voice votes. HB1743 advanced in a 12-5 vote, with three members absent or not voting.

The three bills now go to the full House.

A Section on 03/20/2019

Print Headline: Bills on food stamps clear Arkansas House panel; proposal expands work requirement, bars some junk food purchases


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  • ges2019
    March 20, 2019 at 8:15 a.m.

    So, they want to spend Arkansas tax payers money so that they can stop paying Federal money to feed people that need help.

    March 20, 2019 at 8:33 a.m.

    Nothing wrong with limiting the purchases to actual nutritious foods. SNAP is a safety net program -- NOT a free cash cow. And if the recipient can work but isn't (because - why work when you can get free stuff?) then a work requirement is just good public policy. Same thing applies to Child Support. It is called: personal responsibility.

  • Knuckleball1
    March 20, 2019 at 8:49 a.m.

    These people don't buy junk food, they buy things that I can't afford to buy... Very Good Cuts of Meat...!!!!

    Again something else the Crooks and Thieves think they need to be Lord and God over... Most of them need to visit the Wizard of Oz and see about getting a brain transplant.

  • DJPConway
    March 20, 2019 at 9:39 a.m.

    So a poor child can’t have a candy bar or a bag of chips? Are you serious? Also, why don’t they care about the obesity of non-snap kids? Where’s that bill? Maybe the legislature should focus on helping the poor by improving Arkansas’s economy. Arkansas ranks at the bottom of every educational and economic statistic yet we focus on punishing poor kids snacks. #VoteThemOut

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    March 20, 2019 at 10 a.m.

    One day we will have to admit that whether carrying a (R) or (D) they are usually focusing on everything BUT fixing problems.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    March 20, 2019 at 10:01 a.m.

    It never ceases to amaze me how people think every job is open to every one and that there is no end to jobs so if you dont have one you are just lazy.
    this never ceases to amaze me these godly people.
    with Chinese cell phones.

  • LRCrookAtty
    March 20, 2019 at 10:15 a.m.

    DJP..."So a poor child can’t have a candy bar or a bag of chips?"
    Yes, but not with free money. The parents still make money and if they want special items for their children then buy with their money not the free money. As to the economy and education, just follow the democrat line of thinking, throw more money at it, hire more administrators and keep doing same thing over and over again. At some point it might work (LOL)!

  • LRCrookAtty
    March 20, 2019 at 10:17 a.m.

    Bare..."...with Chinese cell phones."
    You mean the free ones that they get with their food stamps and welfare? Along with, 55" screen televisions, cable and T-bone steak for lunch?

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    March 20, 2019 at 10:41 a.m.

    maybe if they are the racial group identified at the top of every form you will ever file in america
    for employment, large purchases, or assistance.
    obviously you've never been a citizen in need.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    March 20, 2019 at 10:47 a.m.

    thats extremism.
    i dont think people should spend that way, i bet you even at 50k on the rolls i bet 20% of them still live that way I agree.
    but i know for a fact if you are a homeless person you are less likely to be hired.
    quid pro quo
    more likely to recieve aid which you will NOT RECEIVE IN ANY FORM once you work 1 hour.
    Working at wal-mart a 60 yr old lady w/o a vehicle paying 450$ mo/ rent still needs assistance.
    we are not talking about extremes.
    but in the system we live in EVEN this old white lady isnt going to recieve the same level of assistance as a NEW MIGRANT a NEW BANK ACCOUNT for the U>S BANK to PLAY WITH.
    Why help citizens?
    So thats my peace knowing the truth like I do.
    there are no vehicle purchases vouches,
    no immediate housing (many HUD properties for familes sit empty or simply await a syrian family) , nor long term senior "food insurance/tax subsidy return".
    because they dont fit the profile of profitable write off for the FEDX.BANK
    nobody born here does.