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FOOD STAMPS BUY ICE CREAM, NOT SYMPATHY

Here's some food for thought.

Rep. Mark Foley wants to tighten the belt on the nation's food stamp program by crossing off all sorts of goodies from the grocery list.

"Carbonated beverages," says the Republican freshman from Florida.

"Cheese dips. Coffee cakes. Cookies. Corn chips. Doughnuts. Frozen desserts. Fruit pies. Marshmallow cream. Microwaveable snacks. Iced tea. Ice cream. Pork rinds. Potato chips. Powder or sports drinks, like Gatorade. Pretzels. Pudding mixes. . . ."

He says people should use food stamps to pay for such basics as rice, beans, chicken and fresh vegetables -- not Doritos, Mars bars and Cokes.

But as the welfare debate on Capitol Hill barrels along, Foley's idea has been left in the dust -- for now.

Foley would amend the Food Stamp Act of 1977 by banning the purchase of snack foods and desserts. He recently brought up the idea during a House Agriculture Committee hearing, but members shot it down with a voice vote.

"So I told them, I said, 'I'm not done with this yet.' "

A lot of people wish he were, Foley says.

"The grocers, the convenience stores, the chip makers, the soda people. People say, 'You know, we contributed. We're your helpers.' I said, 'Well, that doesn't mean I came up here to do your bidding.' "

Exactly who called themselves Foley's helpers, Foley won't say. "I don't want to target anybody. Just in the food chain."

The food chain?

"The food industry."

OK. I want to stop and say that I believe the majority of food stamp recipients would be in trouble without the assistance. And I'm uneasy with the notion of checkout clerks policing grocery carts. And I'm weary of the rhetoric and insinuation on Capitol Hill that welfare recipients are taking the rest of us for one big, expensive ride.

But if the food stamp program is still supposed to be a nutrition program, I think Foley's idea might be worth exploring.

If you want a treat, buy it with your own money, Foley says.

"I followed a man in Hendry County who bought 2 quarts of fudge ice cream with $5 of food stamps, got the change back, took the ice cream with him. Now this is 10:30 at night. Why am I buying him ice cream?"

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