COLUMBIA — A South Carolina lawmaker is challenging Gov. Nikki Haley and the state’s DSS director to try to eat healthy foods on a food stamp budget for one week.
Democratic Rep. Bakari Sellers challenged Haley and Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller to join him for one week in eating only healthy foods that cost no more than the amount that food stamp recipients receive.
“If the governor and director Koller accept my challenge, they will quickly see that struggling South Carolinians aren’t eating unhealthily because they want to,” Sellers said Friday. “Sometimes, it is hard to understand the plight of the poor until you walk a mile in their shoes.”
Sellers said he’s committed to shopping for healthy foods in his district, but he added that poverty and obesity is not caused just by unhealthy foods, but rather expenses and access to healthy alternatives. He said a better alternative is to start in schools and keep unhealthy foods away from children.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor will not accept the challenge, and suggested that Sellers join the healthy eating effort.
“It’s a serious issue, not just another political opportunity for state Rep. Sellers to exploit for personal gain. When he implies that (food-stamp) participants are unable to make healthy choices, he insults them,” Godfrey said. “This is an opportunity for leaders like state Rep. Sellers to work with the governor, who grew up in his district, on fighting obesity, the No. 1 killer of South Carolinians.”
South Carolina officials on Thursday said they had asked the federal agency that administers the food stamp program to start discussing ways to change it.
Koller told an obesity meeting that about 878,000 people in South Carolina receive about $1.4 billion in benefits each year through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, That program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Koller said she had written to federal officials to ask them for a conversation about ways to change how the program is used in South Carolina.
Because SNAP is a federal program, Koller would need USDA permission to make any changes to it or place restrictions on purchases made in the state. Currently, alcohol and tobacco products are the only prohibited items, but Koller said she planned to ask the federal government for a waiver to cut the list of allowed items in South Carolina to healthy purchases.
Starting next month, a series of meetings will be held around the state to solicit public input on how the program should be changed.