Breaking Down USDA's New SNAP Rule Proposal
WASHINGTON, D.C. — New eligibility standards could be coming to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and cause trouble for convenience stores.
NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, called the new eligibility standards recently set forth in a proposed rule "problematic." The standards were published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) in the Federal Register on Feb. 17.
SNAP provides nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families. According to NACS, in order to accept SNAP benefits, a retailer must meet certain eligibility requirements, including so-called "depth of stock" requirements that stipulate the minimum number of food items a retailer must offer for sale at any given time.
As expected, FNS' proposed new rule will implement statutory provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, which NACS supported, that requires retailers to stock more varieties of products in four "staple food" categories: meat, poultry or fish; bread or cereal; vegetables or fruits; and dairy.
Specifically, retailers must stock no fewer than seven different varieties of food items in each of the four staple food categories. Prior to the 2014 Farm Bill, retailers had to stock three different varieties in each staple food category, the association explained. In addition, retailers will be required to offer at least one perishable food item in three of the categories, rather than two.
NACS, however, believes the FNS has also included several changes in its proposal that go "significantly beyond the statutory requirements in the Farm Bill." Notably, the proposal would make it so that "multiple ingredient" items, such as macaroni and cheese or cold pizza, would not be counted in any staple food category and would not go toward a retailer's "depth of stock" requirements.
"This is a dramatic change from current rules, which permit multiple ingredient items to be counted in one staple food category depending on the main ingredient. For instance, since the main ingredient in mac and cheese is pasta, now it could count as one item in the bread and cereals category," NACS said.
The proposal would also add a "stocking requirement" whereby retailers would always have to have six different units of any food item in a store at any given time.
"As currently drafted, the proposal will make it increasingly difficult for convenience store owners and operators to participate in SNAP, which in turn will negatively impact the many SNAP recipients that use their benefits at NACS members' stores," the association stated.
NACS will be filing comments in response to the proposed federal rule, and the association is asking its members to share their thoughts on the proposal and how it will impact their company's ability to participate in SNAP.
Public comments on the proposed rule must be submitted by April 18.