Wisconsin is Ready to Ban Shrimp and Lobster for Food Stamp Recipients

Lawmakers in Wisconsin are considering a bill that would restrict the use of food stamps, which are formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP users would not be able to buy lobster -- or any kind of shellfish -- and would have a much harder time buying items like pasta sauce, dried beans, and spices.

The bill, AB 177, was proposed by Wisconsin state Rep. Robert Brooks (R), and there was a hearing to consider the bill on Thursday.

"It’s one of three GOP public benefits-related bills scheduled for hearings before the Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform," WASU News points out. "The others would require individuals applying for FoodShare, certain job training programs and unemployment benefits to be tested for drug use."

In comparison to other states' attempts to implement SNAP bans -- such as Maine and Missouri -- the legislation offers more flexibility, but still imposes a burden on people with already limited options. It outright bans "the use of benefits to purchase crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish" and creates a system where two-thirds of SNAP dollars must be spent on nutritional foods and one-third can be used at the person's discretion. The bill states:

Under this bill, DHS must require that not less than 67 percent of the SNAP benefits used by a recipient in a month be used to purchase any of the following foods: foods that are on the list of foods authorized for the federal special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC foods); beef; pork; chicken; fish; fresh produce; and fresh, frozen, and canned white potatoes. In addition, DHS must prohibit using SNAP benefits for the purchase of crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other shellfish.

In 2014, 420,000 households received an average $220 per month in benefits. As ATTN: has pointed out before, that is already a very restricted amount to spend on food, and if anything, only puts undue stress on the food stamp recipient. The system would also make it more difficult for poor families to purchase basic cooking ingredients. From ThinkProgress:

The law would restrict access to a whole range of commonplace ingredients. Some of the things that would be harder to buy for poor families who cook include “herbs, spices, or seasonings,” all nuts, red and yellow potatoes, smoothies, spaghetti sauce, “soups, salsas, ketchup,” sauerkraut, pickles, dried beans sold in bulk, and white or albacore tuna. (Cans of “light tuna” are allowed under the rules.)​

Democrats are already speaking out against the bill, particularly the misconception that SNAP (or FoodShare) users are buying luxury items like lobster.

"It is seeking to legislate the urban myths in our society," state Rep. Evan Goyke (D) told WSAU News. “It’s the fear that somebody on food stamps is buying steak and lobster and champagne, and it’s just not true."

The reality that the bill is trying to legislate doesn't exist, according to Goyke.

“Forty-one percent of the people who receive food stamps are under the age of 18, and the next largest chunk are the elderly," Goyke continued. "And they’re not eating lobster, they’re struggling to get by.”