ALEXANDRIA, Va. – This week NACS told policymakers about industry concerns with a proposed rule published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that includes problematic new eligibility standards for retailers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“The proposed [SNAP] rule would make tens of thousands of small businesses ineligible to participate in the Program. Small businesses will be harmed and SNAP beneficiaries, who rely on these small stores in both urban and rural environments, will lose options they need to feed their families,” wrote NACS in a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.
As previously reported by NACS, on February 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) published a proposed rule altering eligibility requirements for retailers participating in SNAP. While the proposal codifies the 2014 Farm Bill provisions, which NACS supported, it also makes other changes to retailer eligibility requirements that Congress never intended to address in the 2014 Farm Bill. The proposal would impede neighborhood retailers’ ability to participate in the program, which in turn would hinder food accessibility for SNAP recipients that use their benefits at these small format retail locations.
“It appears that FNS is trying to push small retailers out of the SNAP program altogether, for no sound public policy reason,” NACS wrote to Congress, adding that Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Undersecretary Kevin Concannon recently testified before the House Appropriations Committee that there are more small stores participating in SNAP “than we really need.”
The USDA’s SNAP proposal codifies the 2014 Farm Bill “depth of stock” provisions, which require retailers to stock 7 varieties of products in each of the four “staple food” categories. Problematically, the proposal also includes several changes that were neither required nor envisioned by the 2014 Farm Bill.
The proposal redefines the term “staple foods” and limits the items that may count as staple foods for depth of stock determinations. Under the proposal, multiple ingredient items (e.g. soups or frozen dinners) would not count towards depth of stock requirements. The proposal also expands the definition of “accessory foods” to include foods consumed between meals, like snacks (e.g. hummus and pretzel packs).
Because accessory and multiple ingredient foods may not be counted as staple foods for depth of stock determinations—the proposal essentially narrows the universe of acceptable foods that a retailer can stock to participate in SNAP, ultimately raising the stocking numbers beyond the numbers established by Congress.
Next week in Washington during the NACS Government Relations Conference, industry stakeholders will be communicating to members of Congress and their staffs that convenience stores play a fundamental role in SNAP, particularly for low-income Americans who live in rural or urban environments. By making it increasingly difficult for small format retailers to participate in SNAP, the proposal would essentially punish SNAP beneficiaries by requiring them to travel outside of their local neighborhoods where larger format retailers may not exist.
A memorandum analyzing the proposal is available online exclusively for NACS members.