State agency wants to scrap, rebuild food assistance program system used by 300K SC households

Columbia, South Carolina (WCSC) – More than 600,000 South Carolina residents are putting food on the table through the Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or the Food Stamp Program.

But the state agency that oversees the program wants to decide who is eligible for this assistance and completely abolish a system that provides about $2 billion in assistance each year.

The Department of Social Services says the computer system is 34 years old and obsolete, and is asking legislators for $8.7 million in the next state budget to begin rebuilding it, and delaying that work would ” It could pose a big risk,” it wrote in the budget. to the country. “

“Food for 630,000 people, those funds will be at risk,” said Connelly-Anne Ragley, DSS’s director of communications and external affairs. “This is just a small part of the impact that this system will have and the detrimental effects if the system is not running, or if for some reason the system goes down beyond repair.”

According to Ragley, the risk increases each year because the computer systems are so old that newer technicians don’t know how to fix them, and many of those who have done the repairs are retired or close to retirement.

The agency estimates the total cost to replace the system at between $60 million and $80 million. This is likely due to how expansive the system is, as her more than 300,000 households of SNAP and DSS workers are required to use the system. Ensure your new system meets federal standards and will last for years to come.

The federal government could cover almost half of the costs if the states agreed to put in the rest.

“This is a multi-year approach, making sure we design and implement a system that is right sized for our agency but also allows for future growth,” said Ragley.

Ragley said the upgrade will also help people in South Carolina who rely on SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Families in Need (TANF) benefits.

“It allows for timely distribution of benefits, which allows us to determine eligibility more quickly,” she said.

DSS is also requesting an additional $5 million in next year’s budget to extend the Healthy Bucks program.

This encourages SNAP recipients to buy fresh produce from vendors such as farmers’ markets, and the funds to do so are estimated to run out by next summer. With this program, you can receive up to $15 worth of produce when you use your $5 SNAP reward to buy fruits and vegetables from participating vendors. In 2022, a temporary state law regulating the program was amended to raise the incentive cap to $20.

Hallspire, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to promoting healthy communities in South Carolina, hopes state legislators will heed its request.

“If our citizens were healthier, it would actually cost less in the long run, so I think whatever we can do to provide proper nutrition to our citizens is a good program.

The Healthy Bucks program was started almost a decade ago by current Senate Speaker Thomas Alexander, R – Oconee, and late state Senator Clementa Pinkney.

About $2 million they used to create it came from one-time federal funds that can’t be topped up, according to DSS.

Members of Congress will begin receiving budget requests from the DSS and other state agencies as soon as next month’s legislative session begins.

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