COLUMBIA — Lawmakers in South Carolina are trying to keep junk food out of the governor’s mansion, saying that 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 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 Program. Those efforts need federal approval before being implemented.
Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, pushed for the provision in the budget sent to the Senate floor Friday.
“If the governor’s mansion wants to buy soft drinks or whatever else, just don’t do it with public money,” he said. “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 is playing political games with a serious health epidemic.
“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 the Department of Health and Environmental Control. State regulations, however, 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, the commission has worked with DHEC to provide more healthful choices, Templeton said.
In February, Democratic Rep. Bakari Sellers invited Haley and DSS director Lillian Koller to join him for one week in eating only healthful foods that cost no more than the amount that food stamp recipients receive. He argued that healthful foods are more expensive, and access can be a problem for people living in poverty.
The governor did not accept the challenge. Godfrey suggested Sellers join her effort to reduce obesity, the state’s No. 1 killer.