Tuesday, February 16, 2016

USDA: Retailers That Accept SNAP Must Expand 'Healthy Food' Choices; 168 Items Per Store

By Susan Jones | February 16, 2016 | 11:47 AM EST
 A sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards at a farmers market in Roseville, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday announced a proposed rule intended to give food stamp (SNAP) recipients increased access to healthy foods, by requiring stores that accept SNAP to stock a wider variety of healthy food choices.

"USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet," USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon said in a news release. "This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program."

The 2014 Farm Bill required USDA to develop regulations to ensure that stores taking part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offer a broader variety of healthy food choices.

Under the proposed rule announced Tuesday, retailers that accept SNAP benefits would be required to offer "seven varieties of qualifying foods in four staple food groups for sale on a continuous basis, along with perishable foods in at least three of the four staple food groups."

The staple foods groups are dairy products; breads and cereals; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables. In addition, the proposal calls for retailers to stock at least six units within each variety, leading to a total of at least 168 required food items per store.

And what if retailers just drop SNAP rather than comply with the "168 required food items per store"?

USDA says it is "working to ensure that access to food retailers is not hindered for SNAP participants as a result of this rule."

It is seeking comments and suggestions on the proposed rule to help determine "when, where and if any flexibility should be provided" to prevent reductions in SNAP client food access." (To prevent small businesses from saying forget about it, in other words.)

More than 260,000 retailers nationwide are currently authorized to redeem SNAP benefits.

The proposed rule also "underscores USDA's authority to publicly disclose information about SNAP retailers who are disqualified or sanctioned for program violations." That publicly disclosed information would include the name and address of the store, the owners' names, and a description of the violation.

"SNAP violations are a serious matter," Concannon said. "Public disclosure of this information is intended to serve as a deterrent against retailer fraud. The information would provide the public with insight into the integrity of these businesses and individuals."

According to USDA, SNAP is the nation's "first line of defense" against hunger. It provides supplemental food for about 45-million low-income individuals in the United States.

USDA says nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are elderly and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.