USDA Acts on Retailers' SNAP Program Concerns

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service's (FNS) included changes to its final rule regarding eligibility requirements for retailers participating in the food stamp program that will make it easier for retailers such as convenience stores to do so. The rule was released Dec. 8.

The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families. The eligibility requirements that retailers must meet to accept SNAP benefits include "depth of stock" standards that stipulate the minimum number of food items a retailer must offer for sale at any given time.

During the public comment period on the updated eligibility requirements, c-store retailers and industry groups spoke out against changes that NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, would make it "increasingly difficult" for c-stores to participate in the program, as CSNews Online previously reported.

In May, advocates for the c-store industry brought their concerns regarding the changes to the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee.

In its final rule, the USDA removed certain proposed provisions, including a ban on multiple ingredient items such as macaroni and cheese or vegetable beef stew, and an expanded definition of "accessory foods" that would have disallowed healthy grab-and-go items, such as hummus and pretzel packs, as counting toward the stocking requirements. FNS also adjusted the provision that retailers stock six of every SNAP item on shelves at all times so that they must now stock three of every item.

"It's imperative that Americans in need have places where they can buy food," said Anna Ready, NACS director of government relations. "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."

In a released statement, NACS also expressed concern that FNS retained a modified provision that ties retailer eligibility to sales of food to customers who don't use SNAP. The association also stated that it is "troubled by the provisions relating to variety which appear, at first glance, to inject substantial complexities into the program."

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