USDA Issue Final Rule on SNAP Making Significant Improvements

On Dec. 8 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) released its final rule on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “SNAP.” The final rule made some significant positive changes that were sought by CDA, NACS and other stakeholders. However, the rule still contains some provisions which may be a hardship on some in our industry along with the SNAP beneficiaries.

CDA is pleased that the FNS responded favorably to many of the concerns raised by our association and the other stakeholders and we will continue to press for improvements to ensure the most fair and reasonable governing of the SNAP program.

CDA members lobbied this important issue during our annual Day on the Hill program in May 2016 and we are gratified by the results of our efforts, and those of our partners, who brought these concerns to legislators in Congress. CDA also sent a letter to the FNS during the public comment period outlining our concerns with the proposed rule.

The SNAP program is a food assistance program giving millions of low-income Americans access to food in small format stores, including convenience stores. These convenience stores provide critical access to food for many SNAP beneficiaries who may live in “food deserts” with limited access to larger food retailers. The original rule contained a number of problematic provisions that would have eliminated many convenience stores – and the distributors that serve them – from eligibility in this important program. However, after making our concerns known, the agency made significant favorable changes. We remain concerned with the definition of “variety” in the final rule which is largely similar to the provision in the proposed rule requiring retailers to stock expensive and uncommon items.

The USDA favorably addressed some of the more unworkable provisions of the final rule, including the ban on multiple-ingredient items and an expanded definition of “accessory foods” that would have eliminated healthy products (such as hummus and pretzel packs) from counting toward a retailer’s stocking requirements. Under the final rule, multiple ingredient items will continue to count toward a staple food category depending on the main ingredient.

The USDA has also changed the provision that required retailers to stock six of every SNAP item (168 items total) on shelves at all times and now will require retailers to only have three stocking units for every item (84 total items). USDA recognized the hardship this posed retailers with supply and store space limitations and has also recognized that this requirement presents problems for an industry that has significant supply and store space limitations.

The rule will go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.