Should the state regulate what people buy on food stamps?

By Nikki

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) Doughnuts, chips, sodas: if state leaders get their way, some people can say goodbye to purchasing those foods with state-funded assistance.

On Thursday night, the Department of Health and Environmental Control sponsored a forum to allow the community to weigh in on the issue. The Department of Social Services administers the SNAP program whereas DHEC administers WIC.

The USDA administers both.

State leaders hope to eventually ask the USDA for a federal waiver in an effort to curb the state's growing obesity problem. South Carolina ranks eighth in the nation for obesity, and two out of every three people in the state are presently overweight.

"We would ask that the USDA consider using WIC instead of the SNAP program so people have better nutrition," said DHEC director Catherine Templeton.

Right now, WIC provides food stamps for only children and nursing mothers.

"WIC has an educational component. It's an inclusive list of healthy fruits, vegetables and whole grains," said Templeton.

With the exception of tobacco and alcohol, there's little regulation over what people can buy on the SNAP program. If it's junk food they want, people on the program can currently get it.

"If you want to eat Doritos and drink Coca-Cola, go for it. That's great. But not on taxpayers' money," said Templeton. "Right now the federal government is spending $2 billion in taxpayer money subsidizing obesity that's just on sugar-added drinks."

Benita Washington, a mother previously on food stamps, spoke at Thursday's forum in support of a change to the program.

"It hurts my heart when I go in a grocery store and the fresh food vegetable area is only so big, and they got miles of potato chips and soda that people are eating. It's disgusting," she said.

Others argued that the government has no right to tell them what to eat.

"We have a lot of rules and regulations already in place," said one man who spoke.

In South Carolina, there are more than 800,000 people on the SNAP program who collectively receive $1.4 billion in cash benefits annually.

State leaders say by restricting people from purchasing foods deemed unhealthy, the state would save millions in healthcare costs and encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles.