Growing up in Wisconsin, I’ve known my entire life the importance of incorporating balanced, nutritious foods into every meal – with, of course, a cold glass of milk to wash it all down. Access to vitamin-rich, nutritious food is an important piece to creating a better, healthier Wisconsin for everyone.

I have authored a simple bill that takes steps towards encouraging healthier, more nutritious options for Wisconsinites who participate in the FoodShare program. Under my bill, Assembly Bill 530, the Department of Health Services is tasked with creating a pilot program that limits purchases under the FoodShare program of foods that have little or no nutritional value.

As you likely know, FoodShare is Wisconsin’s name for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food benefits to families with a household income under 200 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2016, we know that 718,272 Wisconsin residents received nearly one billion dollars in FoodShare benefits – accounting for roughly 12 percent of our state’s population. While it is incredibly important to ensure families in need have access to food benefits, it is equally critical that they are using these taxpayer-funded benefits to access high-quality, nutritious food options.

We in Wisconsin are seeing an alarming trend when it comes to our health. A recent report shows that 1 in every 3 adults in Wisconsin are considered obese, with adolescents between the ages of 10-17 seeing similar numbers. My bill strives to alter this movement towards obesity, and instead encourage healthy eating habits for those with limited food budgets. Making better nutritional choices will lead to decreased risk for illnesses, lessoned health care costs, and ultimately, a higher quality of life.

To be clear, my bill does not prohibit the purchase of any particular food. It will create a pilot program that will put in place parameters on the amount of food FoodShare benefits can buy that has little to no nutritional value. Essentially, benefit recipients can still buy potato chips and ice cream if they want – but, they’ll also need to spend a portion of their benefits on the food groups that promote healthy bodies and minds, like lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables.

I’m not a dietician, nor do I don’t pretend to know everything about our FoodShare program or how best to implement these needed nutritional guidelines. That’s why my bill puts the Department of Health Services, health experts, and stakeholders in charge of the pilot program’s logistics; they are incredibly knowledgeable and will ultimately identify what is best for both benefit recipients and the program as a whole.

My bill offers a program that will encourage healthy decision making when it comes to food. With obesity trending upwards in Wisconsin and throughout the country, now is the time to start implementing programs that promote nutritious food options. Almost 420,000 children were eligible for Wisconsin FoodShare benefits in 2016. This legislation will result in more of those children learning to love good, healthful foods as they grow into adults.

I am excited to offer this legislation that brings beneficial and important changes to our state’s FoodShare program. Ultimately, I am offering a bill that promotes healthy eating habits and is responsible with tax-payer money – it’s a win for all of Wisconsin.

Representative Treig Pronschinske represents the 92nd Assembly District, including portions of Buffalo, Jackson, and Trempealeau Counties.

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