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Florida lawmaker hopes to change food stamp rules

A woman walks past bags of chips manufactured by PepsiCo Frito-Lay brand on a shelf on March 22, 2010 in Miami, Fla. A state lawmaker in Florida wants to ban the use of food stamps on junk food like chips and cookies.

Jeremy Hobson: Florida has become the latest state to consider limiting what people can buy with food stamps. A state lawmaker there has authored a bill that would ban people from using food stamps to buy junk food.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer joins us now live to talk about what's behind this food fight -- in Florida, and elsewhere. Good morning, Nancy.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer: Hey Jeremy.

Hobson: Well, first, just remind us how food stamps work.

Marshall-Genzer: Sure. Actually, first Jeremy, they're not called food stamps anymore. The food stamp program has been renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. And you did actually used to get paper stamps, but now recipients get a plastic card that they just swipe. The effect is the same, though: the government is buying your groceries. And that state legislator in Florida? She wants to be sure you're not using your food stamps to buy cookies, chips, and candy.

Hobson: And Florida is not the only place trying to put limits on food stamps right now.

Marshall-Genzer: Right, exactly. Legislation limiting food stamp purchases has already been proposed and rejected in a few states, including Oregon, California and Texas.

Hobson: And Nancy, why is this big push against food stamps happening right now?

Marshall-Genzer: Well, Jeremy, food stamp usage is up by more than 60 percent since the start of the recession so it is a hot topic.

And I talked about why food stamp usage is up with Patrick Hughes. He's a policy analyst at Height Analytics.

Patrick Hughes: On the state level, economic and housing woes typically go hand-in-hand with participation in programs like the federal food stamp program.

And of course, Jeremy, Florida has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, so it's really no surprise that it is among the top three food stamp recipients in the country.

Hobson: Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer in Washington, thanks Nancy.

Marshall-Genzer: You're welcome.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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