USDA Seeks to Redefine ‘Variety’ for SNAP

Agency proposal will provide more flexibility to eligible c-store retailers
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WASHINGTON — The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) regulations concerning the eligibility of certain SNAP retail food stores, including convenience stores.

These proposed changes are in response to the Consolidated Appropriations Acts of 2017 and 2018, which prohibited the USDA from implementing two retailer stocking provisions, the “breadth of stock” provision and the “definition of variety” provision of the 2016 final rule, “Enhancing Retailer Standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” until regulatory modifications to the definition of “variety” are made that would increase the number of food items that count as acceptable staple food varieties for purposes of SNAP retailer eligibility.

Using existing authority in the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, the agency proposes to modify the definition of the term “variety.” The proposed changes would provide retailers with more flexibility in meeting the enhanced stocking requirements

In January 2018, the USDA began enforcing that retailers must have three units of three varieties of food in the four staple food categories, according to a statement released by NACS in response to the proposed definition. Under the agency’s current definition of “variety,” a retailer would not have been allowed to count two items from the same species (for example, the retailer couldn’t count both bacon and sliced ham as separate varieties; they would both count as one pork item).

"We are pleased to see that FNS heeded the calls of Congress to rewrite their definition of ‘variety’ in a way that will provide more flexibility for the more than 119,000 convenience stores in the program who provide needed access to food in areas where there is not a large store nearby or during nontraditional hours when most of those stores are closed,” said Anna Ready, director of government relations for Alexandria, Va.-based NACS.

"Convenience stores and other neighborhood stores face storage and size constraints, as well as delivery limitations, which would have made FNS’s original definition of variety almost impossible to comply with even for the most sophisticated retail operations,” she said. “As Congress intended, the proposed definition of ‘variety’ will provide retailers with greater flexibility to reach eligibility requirements without making retailers stock items that simply do not sell in their stores or that they do not have the space or capacity to sell.”

"We appreciate the bipartisan efforts of members of Congress who directed FNS to rewrite their definition of ‘variety’ in way that matched the intent of Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill to preserve the role of the small-format retailer and increase foods stocked inside the store," Ready said. “NACS plans to file comments on the proposal and work with FNS to ensure the final rule provides the greatest possible flexibility for the program’s retail partners."

Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, NACS has 1,900 retailer and 1,800 supplier members from more than 50 countries.

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