USDA Rule Changes to Increase Food Stamp Access to Healthy Foods Could Hurt Small Groceries


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon today 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.”

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.

This rule change could end up hurting many small frum grocery stores, which might be unable to stock all the items required, thus rendering them unable to accept food stamps, an important source of income for some stores.

This proposed rule is one of many ways USDA is working to expand access to healthy foods for SNAP recipients. USDA has piloted the use of incentives to purchase healthy foods at point of sale in various venues, including farmers markets and small groceries where the incentive provided for additional purchase of local produce. The 2014 farm bill provided $100 million for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants to expand this effort, which USDA awarded to grantees in the spring and fall of 2015. USDA has also worked to increase SNAP participants’ access to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers, resulting in over 6,000 authorized locations – an eight-fold increase since the beginning of this administration.

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.

The proposed rule also underscores USDA’s authority under the Food and Nutrition Act to publicly disclose information about SNAP retailers disqualified or sanctioned for program violations. Information to be disclosed under provisions of the proposed rule would be limited to the name and address of the store, the owners’ and officers’ names, and the nature of the violation for which the retailer was sanctioned.

“SNAP violations are a serious matter,” Concannon said. “Public disclosure of this information is intended to serve as a deterrent against retailer fraud. The information would provide the public with insight into the integrity of these businesses and individuals.”

As the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month and is critical in the fight against hunger. SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budgets of about 45 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are elderly and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.

{Andy Newscenter}