SC Health Agency Wants Food Stamp Restrictions - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

SC Health Agency Wants Food Stamp Restrictions

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South Carolina's health agency wants the state to move forward with a proposal to ban the purchase of some unhealthful foods by people using food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Catherine Templeton, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, has sent a letter to Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Social Services, which administers the food stamp program, encouraging DSS to ask for a federal waiver so the state can ban food stamp purchases of sugary drinks, candy, cookies and cakes.

Templeton writes, "Empty calories through SNAP often cost taxpayers twice: once at the grocery store and again at the doctor's office. Belt tightening in the federal budget means nutrition and health care dollars will have to go further. We simply can't afford to waste money on junk food that contributes to the rising costs of obesity-related disease."

DHEC held public hearings around the state to get input on the proposal.

Sue Berkowitz, executive director of the Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an advocate for low-income families, says the majority of those who spoke at the hearings were against the proposed ban.

"I think, for me, what becomes most offensive is that our health agency, DHEC, has never once showed any concern that 1 out of 5 people in our state are at risk of going hungry, that 25 percent of our children are going hungry," she says. "They're never talking about what do we do to help people get healthier foods?"

She says the proposed ban would also be a burden on grocery stores and convenience stores. "Are we going to make the store clerk have to stand there and figure out, well, is this a banned item? This is not a banned item? What if a new product comes out tomorrow?"

But in her letter, Templeton writes, "A SNAP waiver isn't about limiting choice – it is about connecting word and deed. As you know, paying lip service to nutrition and looking the other way when SNAP dollars buy junk food won't get us anywhere."

DSS director Koller now has the decision about whether to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She says, "We're looking at options and preparing to make a request that will improve the health of South Carolinians, but it's premature to talk about what the options are."

Other waiver requests have not been successful. Minnesota asked for a waiver on candy and soft drinks, while New York City wanted to run a demonstration project banning soft drinks. Both requests were denied as being too broad and unworkable. Mississippi had also requested a waiver but withdrew its request.

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