WASHINGTON -- The comment period on the proposed rule that changes retailer requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) of food stamp program closed May 18. Interested parties filed more than 1,200 comments on regulations.gov, including many convenience-store retailers and members of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), the group reported.
In more than 21 pages of comments, NACS called on the Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) to withdraw its proposed rule so that convenience stores can continue playing an integral role in SNAP by providing access to food to low-income Americans who need it most.
“The proposed rule goes well beyond what the Farm Bill required or envisioned, [and] FNS has acted outside of the scope of its authority,” NACS said.
By changing the underlying definition of “staple food” to exclude multiple ingredient items and snack foods that are eaten between meals, FNS narrows the universe of what retailers can count toward their stocking requirements, said NACS. The proposal disqualifies many popular, nutrient-rich foods such as canned soups, frozen dinners and on-the-go snack packs. It would also require a retailer to stock six facing units of each of the 28 varieties of foods required in the Farm Bill, meaning a SNAP retailer will have to stock 168 single ingredient items on shelves at all times.
The proposed rule fails to account for “the logistical realities relating to how small retailers are supplied,” NACS said.
“If the depth of stock provisions are finalized as proposed, it would lead Love’s and many other retailers to completely re-evaluate the decision to participate in SNAP. Many will exit the program,” said Carl Martincich, vice president of human resources and risk management for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Oklahoma City, before the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s hearing on SNAP on May 12. He testified on the behalf of truckstop and travel-center association NATSO.
NACS also criticizes FNS’ redefinition of “retail food store,” which would render a convenience store ineligible to be a SNAP retailer if 15% or more of its total food sales come from foods that are cooked or heated on site.
“This provision alone would disqualify virtually all of Casey’s stores from participating in SNAP,” said Doug Beech, counsel for Casey’s General Stores, Ankeny, Iowa, representing NACS, in testimony before the House committee. “Even though SNAP recipients cannot redeem their benefits on hot foods, this provision would penalize us for meeting our non-SNAP customers’ desire for prepared foods. Frankly, what foods we sell to non-SNAP customers should not be FNS’ concern.”
On May 16, House Agriculture Committee chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and 161 members sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services (FNCS) Undersecretary Kevin Concannon expressing their concerns regarding the FNS’ recently proposed rule to modify retailer SNAP eligibility requirements.
The proposal extends beyond Congressional intent laid out in the 2014 Farm Bill and contains several provisions that restrict the ability of small-format retailers to participate in SNAP, in turn jeopardizing access to food for more than 45 million SNAP recipients, they said.
“The 2014 Farm Bill reached a good balance of increasing nutritional food options for SNAP recipients, while ensuring new requirements would not limit retailer participation and reduce access in the program. We encourage both Secretary Vilsack and Undersecretary Concannon to reflect on this careful balance and make the necessary modifications to their proposal so SNAP recipients and the small retailers who serve them are not negatively impacted,” said Conaway.
“Large grocery stores aren’t always easily accessible, leaving many consumers relying on the groceries provided by convenience stores and other small-format retailers. The proposed rule fails to take these circumstances into account. The rule would threaten smaller retailers’ ability to participate in SNAP, reducing food access to many consumers who use these retailers to make grocery purchases. I hope this issue can be addressed as the rulemaking process moves forward,” said Peterson.
FNS will review all comments received and revise its proposal before issuing a final regulation.