USDA Says SC Faces Uphill Battle to Change SNAP

USDA officials say there are alternatives to restricting food purchases

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By Monique Williams

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) -- The ongoing debate over food stamp restrictions in South Carolina gets more heated as the federal government speaks out about the future of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

U. S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, while in Columbia this week, weighed in on the obesity crisis in South Carolina. He also sounded off on whether food stamp recipients on the federal SNAP should be restricted from purchasing unhealthy foods.

"We think there are a number of ways to address this," said Vilsack. "I
think Gov. Haley's concerns are an effort to try to make sure we address obesity holistically and comprehensively. We're concerned about it, too. The alternative may not to be restrict, but to incent."

Incentives for both the consumer and the retailer to buy healthily may be a better option, claims Vilsack. South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) is applying for a waiver from the USDA so it can change the list of eligible foods that may be purchased through SNAP, formerly the food stamp program.

Talks about the proposed changes have been met with much opposition.

"If you're selecting what we can and can't buy...this is already based on your income so that little income you do have, they're already cutting it. It's really getting crazy," said Shenelle Johnson, SNAP recipient.

But, South Carolina isn't alone in its fight.

Secretary Vilsack says states across the country have tried to get permission to regulate its own eligible foods list.

State Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials are embracing changes to SNAP if it means decreasing obesity in the state.

"The thing that kills the most South Carolinians, makes the most South Carolinians sick and, if prevented, would save the most money in treatment is obesity," said Executive Director of DHEC, Catherine Templeton.

However, to date, the USDA has rejected all applications for such waivers.

"The request, in terms of waivers, can be more complicated than people realize," said Vilsack.

The USDA says over the next couple of months, it plans to roll out additional options for SNAP.

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