The state health department announced this week it is working with the federal Department of Agriculture to improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, formerly called the food stamp program.

Catherine Templeton, director of the S.C. Department of Environmental Control, submitted a letter to the federal government and attached the findings of a June report about the SNAP program in South Carolina.

The report outlined conclusions from a series of statewide meetings held earlier this year, which were intended to seek public input about a plan to restrict what food stamp recipients could buy with their vouchers.

The state government must obtain federal approval before implementing the plan, which leaders say may help improve obesity in South Carolina.

DHEC Director Catherine Templeton wrote in the report, “Simply put: obesity kills the most South Carolinians, makes the most sick, and would save us the most money in treatment if prevented.”

She added, “SNAP benefits can be used to purchase almost any food, irrespective of its nutritional value. We believe a waiver from federal rules to refocus SNAP on nutrition can address the health of our families, while honoring our commitment to assist those in need and strengthen American agriculture.”

DHEC fielded criticism of the plan during the public meetings, the report indicates. Some argued that the plan takes choice away from adults and restricts how federal dollars can be spent in South Carolina. Others suggested the health department should focus on educating SNAP recipients about healthy eating instead of restricting what they can buy with their benefits.

The report says about 878,000 South Carolinians participate in the SNAP program. Almost half are children.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.