FRANKFORT, Ky. — A lawmaker from Kentucky's impoverished Appalachian region has dropped a proposal that would have banned welfare recipients from buying candy, soda and other sweets on the taxpayers' tab.
State Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, wanted to force food stamp program recipients to buy more nutritious foods.
The move was met by opposition from constituents in Bell and Harlan counties, the heart of the eastern coalfields where a high percentage of residents rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to feed their families.
Some detractors accused Nelson of trying to take candy away from children in the midst of an economic recession that has caused widespread unemployment.
"Sweets or junk food is not an appropriate purchase with the food stamp money that the taxpayers provide for them," Nelson told WKYT-TV in Hazard shortly after he filed the bill.
On Friday, Nelson said he had withdrawn the proposal. He declined to comment further.
The Harlan Daily Enterprise said in an editorial that Nelson's proposal for the modern version of the food stamp program, which provides recipients with benefit cards that can be swiped at checkouts, was a divisive one.
"We don't mean to be too critical of his action," the newspaper said. "We would simply ask that he focus his energies on more impressive matters. ...Our region is hurting, and it is going to take topnotch leadership from our elected officials to get us that help."
Nelson said in a column published in the Harlan newspaper that opposition wasn't limited to food stamp recipients but also came from soda bottlers and junk food retailers.
"Maybe this was not the best approach to attacking this problem, but I was sincere in my beliefs that our kids need good, nutritious meals at home," he wrote.
Nelson isn't the first Kentucky lawmaker to try to get tough on welfare program recipients. State Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, has been pressing to require recipients be screened for drug use so that those who test positive would be ineligible for benefits.
In the column, Nelson said some recipients have been buying cases of soda and trading them for drugs.
"I believe most of the people who receive these benefits play by the rules and use the benefits to feed their families to the best of their ability," Nelson wrote. "However, if we don't get a handle on abuse and fraud, then the ones who really deserve benefits may lose them due to a lack of money."