Senators limit foods bought for governor's mansion

5/3/2013 3:00 PM
By Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Lawmakers in South Carolina are trying to keep junk food out of the governor's mansion, saying if Gov. Nikki Haley wants to fight obesity with food stamp restrictions, she needs to lead by example.

The Senate Finance Committee inserted a clause in its 2013-14 budget plan that would bar Haley's office and the governor's mansion from buying junk food with public money, whether for family dining, employee treats or entertaining. The move was a response to state efforts to fight obesity by limiting what people can buy with money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, known more commonly as food stamps.

Those efforts need federal approval before being implemented.

Sen. Darrell Jackson pushed for the provision in the budget plan sent to the Senate floor Friday. He said it's only fair for Haley to abide by the healthy purchasing she's promoting for poor people.

"If the governor's mansion wants to buy soft drinks or whatever else, just don't do it with public money," said Jackson, D-Columbia. "If it's really that good of an idea, why not agree to implement it with your staff? It sets a wonderful example for all those SNAP recipients to say, 'The governor is with us.'"

Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Jackson's playing political games with a serious health epidemic.

At least 30 percent of South Carolina adults are considered obese, according to a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure ties for the nation's seventh-highest obesity rate, and the state is forecast to rank fifth-highest by 2030.

"The governor is trying to tackle the obesity epidemic in South Carolina — if state Sen. Jackson wants to play games with it, that's his business, but we're going to keep fighting to help South Carolinians get healthy," Godfrey said.

Jackson also sought to bar unhealthy purchasing by the two agencies leading the SNAP effort: the Department of Social Services and Department of Health and Environmental Control. But state regulations already block state agencies from providing such perks, said DHEC Director Catherine Templeton.

"We appreciate that, but we don't buy treats now," she said. "We don't cater anything. We don't buy food."

As for vending machines in agency offices, those are stocked by the state Commission for the Blind, and DHEC has worked with the commission to provide healthier choices, Templeton said.

This isn't the first time a Democratic legislator has challenged the proposal to limit unhealthy purchasing through SNAP.

In February, Democratic Rep. Bakari Sellers invited Haley and DSS 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. He argued healthy foods are more expensive, and access can be a problem for people living in poverty.

The governor did not accept the challenge. Godfrey suggested that Sellers join her effort to reduce obesity, the state's No. 1 killer.

About 878,000 people in South Carolina receive about $1.4 billion in benefits each year through SNAP, according to DSS. The state needs federal permission to make any changes to the program or restrict purchasing because it's administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Currently, alcohol and tobacco products are the only prohibited items.

DHEC is compiling material from the public comment period that ended Thursday. DSS will then write the waiver request to the USDA.

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