S.C. Gov. Haley wants to link food stamps to jobs

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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. - PHOTO: Courtesy

Gov. Nikki Haley will not support an earlier proposal to keep food stamp recipients from buying junk food, instead backing an idea requiring people in three counties to show they are working or looking for a job to get the benefits.

Haley’s proposal will have to be approved by the federal government. It would be limited to food stamp recipients in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties for now.

The requirement to work or be looking for a job is part of fighting obesity in South Carolina, just like the governor’s original idea to limit food stamp purchases to healthier foods, maintains South Carolina Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller, who agency runs the food stamp program in the state.

“There is a strong correlation between unemployment and obesity. Food stamp recipients, in particular, the longer they receive food stamps, the higher their BMI,” Koller told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

BMI is body mass index, a formula of height and weight that health care providers use to determine obesity.

But advocates for the poor say Haley’s latest proposal may not be any better than her initial idea.

“It breaks my heart that those of us working on removing barriers have to deal with others putting up more barriers. Why do we keep thinking that they’re not good people? And that’s what we’re saying if we say you’ve got to prove you’re looking for a job,” Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, told The State newspaper.

Haley’s original proposal made in February 2011 would have prevented people from using benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP — to buy candy, soda, chocolate and chips. Haley’s administration said they backed off that idea after public meetings across the state.

The new “SNAP Work 2 Health” proposal would apply to everyone getting food stamps in the three counties. People with children under age 6 would be exempt.

The counties were chosen because they have both the highest unemployment rates and obesity rates in South Carolina, Koller said.