HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Mississippians using the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may soon be able to pay their water bills with their benefits card.
State Sen. Joey Fillingane, who proposed the legislation, said he drafted the bill after a conversation with a constituent who works for a rural water association.
"The idea being that you can use your card, your SNAP card, to go to the grocery store and buy bottled water, but up until now, you've not been able to actually use the same benefits to purchase tap water," Fillingane said. "Most of our folks, or a lot of them I would say, use the water right out of the tap and use that as their drinking water and to cook with. I had never thought of it."
Right now, Fillingane said SNAP cards can only be used for grocery purchases.
"To me, if there's some person out there, and I know there are in my district, that uses their tap water for drinking water, it makes really no difference to me if you go down to the grocery store and buy expensive bottled water or if you just use the water out of your tap for your drinking purposes," he said. "I think that's potable water. You need to be able to purchase that with your benefits."
He said understanding the difficulties of living on a fixed income pushed him to draft the bill.
"What really sold me on the idea is that I do know of elderly people in my family, in my district, in my area in my community and church that, yeah, they use their tap water as their water supply," he said. "I mean, that's their drinking water. They don't buy bottled water or have fancy refrigerators with the water dispensers on them. They literally use the water right out of the tap. I think it's a tragedy that some of these local, rural water associations have to go to, in many instances, shut-ins, people who can't even travel, they're just there, on their own at their house or their trailer, and they have to cut their water off because there's no payment of the bill. When the people try to say 'well I've got money left on my snap card, can you take that?' currently, they have to say 'no. We cannot. You have to go take that down to the grocery store and buy some bottled water to drink,' which is, you know, ridiculous."
Fillingane said he expects the bill to be considered in the Public Health and Welfare Committee in the next two weeks.
"There will be people who argue, 'you know, you also use that water to water your lawn and to wash your car, and that's not drinkable. So why should you be able to use that?' I understand that, and I'm sure that argument will maybe be made in the legislation as it progresses through the different steps," Fillingane said. "If people never drank the water out of their tap, then I could understand. Well, if it's only being used for fire suppression or watering of the lawn or even washing of the dishes, filling up your bath tub, I could understand that. But a lot of people, in the rural areas especially, use the tap water for drinking purposes and cooking purposes. I think it makes all the sense in the world that if you've got benefits still left on your SNAP card then you ought to be able to purchase water for drinking and feeding your kids."
He said there is no specific timeline for the bill, but said he expects some action on it in February.