WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) on Dec. 8 announced final changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that the department said are intended to increase participants’ access to healthy food choices. The final rule requires authorized retailers to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options, but eliminates some concerns that retailers said could force them to drop out of the program.
The final rule provides updates to SNAP retailer eligibility criteria. Previously, a retailer could be authorized to participate in the program with a minimum inventory of 12 items. The final rule has expanded the number of required food items to a minimum of 84.
FNS also has changed the provision that retailers stock six of every SNAP item on shelves at all times and now will require three of every item to be on shelves.
The 84 items include seven varieties in each of the four staple food categories, with three units of each variety, for a total of 21 total items per category.
In the final rule, multiple-ingredient foods will count toward retailer eligibility. And the existing regulatory requirement that specifies the threshold of hot and cold prepared foods sold that makes a location an ineligible restaurant (rather than an eligible SNAP retailer) is far more flexible than in the proposed rule, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said. The requirement is “nearly the same as the requirement that has been in place for some time,” it said, with only a “modest” change to account for foods heated and consumed on site after purchase.
Changes to the definition of accessory foods ensure that stores are not able to participate in SNAP by selling primarily snack foods, according to the USDA. At the same time, the definition of “variety” has been expanded to make it easier for stores to meet the new requirements mandated by the Agricultural Act of 2014.
NACS said it believes the final rule makes some changes that were necessary to ensure people could get the food they need, but still has some provisions that may risk hurting SNAP beneficiaries.
The group said it is “heartened” that USDA removed several problematic provisions from the final rule that the association said would have made it impossible for tens of thousands of retailers to meet its requirement. Those provisions included the ban on multiple-ingredient items (such as vegetable beef stew), and an expanded definition of “accessory foods” that would have eliminated healthy grab-and-go items, such as hummus and pretzel packs, from counting toward a retailer’s stocking requirements.
NACS remains concerned, however, that FNS has retained a modified provision tying retailer eligibility to sales of food to customers who don’t use SNAP. The group also said it is troubled by the provisions relating to variety “that appear, at first glance, to inject substantial complexities into the program.”
“It’s imperative that Americans in need have places where they can buy food,” said Anna Ready, director of government relations for NACS. “We are encouraged by what appears to be significant progress in the final rule, although we remain concerned that FNS is still trying to penalize retailers for sales of items to non-SNAP customers. We are going through the rule in detail to determine how it will impact convenience stores and the SNAP customers they serve.”
Click here for more information about the final rule, including examples of acceptable foods and stocking units.