Chew on This: Should Food Stamp Recipients Have Their Shopping Lists Limited?

Someone may soon have to teach people on welfare in Missouri how to fish because they may not be able to get a fish to eat for a day, if all they have in a wallet is food stamps.

Their peers in Kansas may also have new restrictions on what they can buy with food stamps, along with a prohibition on spending their federal assistance money on fun things like psychics, tattoos, or cruise ships — if one should ever dock in Kansas.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has followed suit with his peers in Kansas and Missouri. Page has re-introduced a proposal — which Democrats were able to water down a year ago to the constituency of the gruel served to Oliver Twist in the last legislative session — to slap new restrictions on welfare recipients.

The impact of restrictions on the food welfare recipients can buy with their government benefits, beyond making taxpayers feel better, has never been determined. However, an independent study of the impact of food restrictions on low-income families is underway.

Depending on the results, it could give opponents or proponents new ammunition.

But at least three states — Maine, Missouri, and Kansas — seem destined for tighter restrictions without that information. They are also doing what the federal government has refused to do in the past.

Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin not only wants to stop food stampers in his state from buying seafood – the Republican would outlaw the purchase of energy drinks, soda, cookies, chips and steak with federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) money.

This would not be the first time the Missouri Legislature has tightened regulations on what could or could not be purchased with food stamps and other federal money.

In 2013, Missouri lawmakers banned the practice of withdrawing welfare money from ATMs in casinos and strip clubs or spending the money in those establishments.

The ATM legislation came two years after Missouri lawmakers passed a bill that forced everyone applying for federal assistance to submit to a drug test.

Maine Gov. LePage has introduced a comprehensive welfare reform bill that combines elements of welfare reform legislation he previously put before the legislature with a new initiative.

“We will only move Mainers from poverty to prosperity if we are willing to bring accountability to the welfare system and create an expectation of work among those who are on it,” said LePage. “This legislation is about a fundamental culture shift in Maine’s economy and government — one that is underway, but is not yet complete.”

The proposal, among other things, would prohibit Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program recipients from using government money to pay for “tobacco, liquor, imitation liquor, gambling, lottery tickets, tattoos, and bail.”

Elements of the bill were introduced by LePage and Republican lawmakers in 2014 but were killed by majority Democratic lawmakers. Others planks in the LePage proposal, including changes to the Alternative Aid program, strengthened sanctions for violations, and the prohibition of the purchase of tattoos with TANF funds, are new proposals this year.