South Carolina will ask for permission from the federal government to require food stamp recipients to work or be looking for work. The state is scrapping a proposal to ban food stamps from being used to buy junk food.
Gov. Nikki Haley had proposed the junk food ban as a way to fight the state's high obesity rate, but has backed off because the federal government denied similar requests by other states.
But while researching that possibility, her cabinet agencies found studies that show a higher obesity rate among the unemployed and a higher obesity rate among those on food stamps.
A Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index report in June 2012 said people between the ages of 18 and 44 who are unemployed are 30 percent more likely to be obese than their employed counterparts. Other studies found those receiving food stamps were heavier than their counterparts who did not, and those on food stamps got heavier the longer they received them.
Amber Gillum, deputy director of economic services at the state Department of Social Services, says the work requirement would not apply to everyone.
"Anyone who applies for SNAP who does not have a child under the age of 6, who is not disabled or who is not over the age of 60, would be required to look for work. As long as they were looking for work then they would be in compliance. So this notion that if you don't get a job you'd be kicked off food stamps is not correct," she says.
The state has to first ask for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That waiver is expected to be granted because the USDA's own website on the food stamp program says, "Generally ABAWDS (able-bodied adults without dependents) between 18 and 50 who do not have any dependent children can get SNAP benefits only for 3 months in a 36-month period if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training program other than job search. This requirement is waived in some locations.
"With some exceptions, able-bodied adults between 16 and 60 must register for work, accept suitable employment, and take part in an employment and training program to which they are referred by the local office. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in disqualification from the Program."
If the state's waiver request is approved, this would be a pilot program at first in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties. They were chosen because they have high unemployment rates and high obesity rates.