SNAP-based food fight turns to war of words for Sellers, Haley

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCIV) - State Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg) made a friendly challenge to Gov. Nikki Haley and Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller on Friday to live on food stamps for one week.

Haley declined, which sparked a{}volley of responses from Sellers, Haley and the state's Democratic Party.

The governor said that Sellers is trying to exploit the issue for personal gain.

"What the governor and state officials have done is challenge all South Carolinians to be healthier. It's a serious issue, not just another political opportunity for State Rep. Sellers to exploit for personal gain - when he implies that SNAP participants are unable to make healthy choices, he insults them. 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," Haley said.

The South Carolina Democratic Party said Haley was "not only unable to put herself in the shoes of others, but completely unwilling as well," in response to her rejection of Sellers' challenge.

SCDP officials called her comment "glib" and "out of touch."

Haley's spokesman, Rob Godfrey, called the SCDP's response a political stunt.

"We're focused on making South Carolina a healthier, better place - not on political parties or political stunts," he said.

Sellers said he was surprised Haley did not want to participate in the challenge.

"I'm very surprised that Governor Haley has rejected my challenge to live on a food stamp budget for a week. Once again we see that the Governor's rhetoric and actions are two entirely different things. It is disappointing that Governor Haley doesn't understand the problem; but it's even more disappointing that she is refusing to try and understand the problem," Sellers said.

The initial challenge was made via Twitter in response to Haley's call on Thursday to eliminate unhealthy foods from the state's food stamp program. Sellers is asking Haley and Koller to eat only healthy foods on the SNAP food program funds for a week.

Sellers committed to only shopping for healthy alternatives in his district, which contains parts of Bamberg, Barnwell, and Colleton Counties.

"While the Governor's idea sounds good on the surface, poverty and obesity is not caused just by unhealthy foods, but rather expenses and access to healthy alternatives," said Rep. Sellers. "We don't have Whole Foods in rural South Carolina, nor does the farmer's market accept food stamps."

"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," said Sellers. "Sometimes it is hard to understand the plight of the poor until you walk a mile in their shoes."

Instead of cutting out unhealthy foods from the SNAP program, Sellers says he will reintroduce a healthy school lunch bill that would ban sugary, high-fat foods from school lunch programs and remove high-calorie snacks from vending machines.

"Obesity in South Carolina starts in the schools," said Sellers. "If Governor Haley truly wants to fight this epidemic, I would ask for her support in helping pass my healthy school lunch bill."


ONLY ON 4: Valencia Wicker met with a woman who lives in downtown Charleston and finds healthy alternatives to fatty, high-calories foods while operating under the SNAP program guidelines. Read her story here.