U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon on Feb. 16, announced a proposed rule designed to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants increased access to healthy foods by requiring stores that accept SNAP to stock a wider array of food choices.
“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” Concannon said. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”
But the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) pointed out that the new rule would make it harder for convenience stores to participate in the program, which could ultimately make it harder for SNAP recipients to obtain the products they need.
The 2014 Farm Bill required USDA to develop regulations to ensure that stores that accept SNAP offer a broader variety of healthy food choices. The stocking provisions in the proposed rule would require SNAP-authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options so that recipients have access to more healthy food choices. SNAP retailers would be required to offer seven varieties of qualifying foods in four staple food groups for sale on a continuous basis, along with perishable foods in at least three of the four staple food groups. The staple foods groups are dairy products; breads and cereals; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables. In addition, the proposal calls for retailers to stock at least six units within each variety, leading to a total of at least 168 required food items per store.
One problematic part of this proposal is it would prevent “multiple ingredient” items (think macaroni and cheese or cold pizza) from being counted in any staple food category or going toward a retailer’s “depth of stock” requirements, NACS pointed out. At present, multiple ingredient items can be counted in one staple food category depending on the main ingredient; (so currently mac and cheese could count as an item in the bread and cereals category since its main ingredient is pasta.) Not so under the new proposed rule. The proposal would also add a “stocking requirement” which would require that retailers always have to have six different units of any food item in a store at any given time.
USDA is working to ensure that access to food retailers is not hindered for SNAP participants as a result of this rule. Comments and suggestions on the proposed rule are encouraged to help USDA determine when, where, and if any flexibility should be provided to prevent reductions in SNAP client food access.
Comments on the proposed rule will be received for 60 (calendar) days. For more information see the Federal Register Notice.