In December 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) published a final rule titled “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Requirements for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents.”
The rule requires SNAP recipients ages 18-49 who are not disabled and have no dependents to work at least 20 hours a week to retain benefits.
The change will take effect April 1, 2020, and could reduce the number of SNAP recipients by as many as 700,000.
In fiscal year 2018, 39.7 million people received SNAP benefits. Of those, 2.9 million were able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-49 without a dependent — nearly 74% of whom were not working, according to the USDA.
Convenience stores represent 45% of all retail outlets authorized to accept SNAP benefits.
Current rules require SNAP recipients to work at least 20 hours weekly for more than 90 days in a 36-month period to qualify for benefits. However, states have been able to waive that requirement in areas with high unemployment rates.
Under the new rule, states can no longer ask the federal government to temporarily waive the restrictions unless it’s for an area with an unemployment rate of 10% or higher or if the state can otherwise prove a lack of sufficient jobs.
The national unemployment rate is 3.5% as of December 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 5.8 million people unemployed, down from 6.3 million the year prior.
Those who cannot find 20 hours of paid work per week also have the option to participate 20 hours per week in a local, state or federal work program, such as a SNAP Employment and Training program.
“We’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That’s the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.”
The USDA estimated the change will save the government $5.5 billion during a five-year period.
However, in addition to increased food insecurity among current SNAP recipients, reducing SNAP benefits could be detrimental to retailers who might experience less consumer spending.
Jon Cox, chief merchant and senior director of merchandising for Pittsburgh-based GetGo, said he believes the changes will minimally affect c-stores compared to grocery, but he recognizes the impact to current SNAP recipients in his community.
Cox said GetGo, which operates 265 stores in Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, works with Pittsburgh-based 412 Food Rescue, which collects food that would otherwise go to waste and distributes it to organizations serving communities in need. The items are unsellable but still viable, fresh and healthy foods.
Despite widespread food insecurity, according to 412 Food Rescue, the U.S. wastes 62.5 million tons of food per year.
“I think, as retailers, we’re trying to figure out how we can offset some of those impacts by making sure that we initiate programs to still get good food to the people who need it,” said Cox, “like extending our partnership with the food banks, to help offset some of the burden for people who were on SNAP that now no longer qualify.”
The 2014 Farm Bill required additional obligations on SNAP retailers. In December 2016, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) — the agency overseeing SNAP— finalized a rule enacting some of these provisions and additional requirements.
The U.S. Congress passed legislation in 2017 and 2018 delaying this rule until FNS expanded the definition of “variety” to make it easier for small-format retailers to comply. FNS published its proposal on expanding the definition of variety in April 2019. The comment period closed in June. Retailers continue to wait for FNS to finalize and publish the “variety” definition.
Under the Final Rule, to participate in SNAP, convenience stores must:
- Stock seven varieties of foods in each of the four staple food categories: (1) meat, poultry or fish, (2) bread or cereals, (3) vegetables or fruits and (4) dairy, and at least one perishable food item in three of the categories. SNAP retailers must also have three units of every variety, 84 total items, on shelves. These stocking requirements are on hold, however, until FNS finalizes its revised definition of variety, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) has reported.
- USDA would allow retailers to show compliance with stocking requirements using receipts and invoices that show they purchased the necessary items up to 21 days before the date of an agency inspection. Therefore, it’s key for retailers to hold onto these documents for one year, in case of an FNS inspection.
- According to the final rule, stores would be disqualified from the program if 50% or more of their retail sales — including fuel sales — are derived from items cooked or heated on-site before or after purchase, known as the “hot foods” threshold.
The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) offers a compliance guide for members who participate in SNAP.