Proposed SNAP Change Offers Flexibility for Retailers
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) latest proposed rule updates the definition of "variety" as a requirement for retailer eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program on April 4.
The new definition could allow more convenience stores and other retailers to participate in the program.
Eligibility requirements were outlined as part of a rule published in December 2016, but Congress delayed enactment of some of its provisions with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 and 2018 due to issues with the definition of "variety,"
With the delay, lawmakers directed FNS to rewrite such provisions of the updated SNAP retailer eligibility requirements, according to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
The proposed final definition requires that participating retailers must offer seven varieties in each of the four food groups: dairy; meat, poultry or fish; bread or cereal; and fruits or vegetables. Of these seven varieties, at least one item in three categories must be perishable. FNS is proposing expanding the items that would count as different varieties in the first three food groups.
In particular, changes to the dairy category allow for greater flexibility for varieties of milk, cheese and yogurt, For example, c-stores would be able to count a milk-based yogurt drink, a full-fat, milk-based yogurt and fat-reduced, milk-based yogurt separately.
The announcement drew praise from NACS.
"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 non-traditional hours when most of those stores are closed," said Anna Ready, director of government relations at NACS.
Comments on the proposed definition are open through June 4.
"Convenience stores and other neighborhood stores face storage and size constraints, as well as delivery limitations, which would have made FNS' original definition of variety almost impossible to comply with even for the most sophisticated retail operations," Ready 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."
NACS said it intends to file comments on the proposal and work with FNS to ensure the final rule provides the greatest possible flexibility for SNAP retail partners.
"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 added.