Rewrite would give retailers much-needed flexibility in what they must offer in each food category
By NACS Online // April 05, 2019
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has proposed a ruleto update the definition of “variety” as it relates to eligibility requirements for retailers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Those eligibility requirements were promulgated in the final rule, “Enhancing Retailer Standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” published on December 15, 2016. Due to problems with the definition of “variety” in the final rule, Congress delayed enactment of some of the rule’s provisions with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 and 2018 and directed FNS to rewrite the “variety” provisions of the updated SNAP retailer eligibility regulations.
SNAP provides more than 40 million Americans, including millions of children, with the resources to buy food. The program is run by FNS, which sets the requirements for the 263,105 firms that accept SNAP benefits for food purchases. Small format stores, including convenience stores, provide critical access to food for many SNAP beneficiaries who may live long distances from a large food retailer or may need to shop for food during non-traditional hours when other food retailers are closed.
Retailers will be required to have seven varieties in each of the four “staple food” categories (dairy; meat, poultry, or fish; bread or cereal; and vegetables or fruits) for a total of 28 items. Of the seven varieties of food in each category, at least one item in three categories must be perishable, i.e. food that will spoil within two to three weeks. FNS, however, is proposing to expand what will count as variety in the staple food categories. Under the proposal, FNS would expand the items that would count as different varieties in the (1) dairy, (2) meat, poultry, or fish, and (3) bread or cereal categories.
In the dairy category, FNS would provide retailers with greater flexibility for milk, cheese and yogurt varieties. Specifically, FNS would allow retailers to count (1) full-fat cow’s milk, (2) fat-reduced cow’s milk, (3) a liquid shelf-stable cow’s milk and (4) powdered cow’s milk as four discrete varieties. FNS would also allow retailers to count (1) fresh cheese (e.g., cream cheese), (2) semisoft cheese (e.g., Munster cheese), (3) hard cheese (e.g., Swiss cheese) and (4) cheese-based product (e.g., jarred Alfredo pasta sauce) as four discrete varieties in the dairy category. For yogurt, (1) a milk-based yogurt drink (e.g., lassi), (2) full-fat milk-based yogurt and (3) fat-reduced milk-based yogurt would count as separate varieties.
For the meat, poultry or fish category, the agency would allow a perishable and a shelf-stable item for any species to count as one discrete variety. This means that refrigerated bacon (perishable) and canned ham (shelf-stable) would each count as one variety of food in the meat, poultry or fish category. The agency is also proposing to provide greater flexibility in the bread or cereal category.
Comments are due June 4th.
NACS has long advocated for FNS to expand the definition of variety and welcomes these proposed changes, which would expand the narrow definition promulgated in the 2016 final rule. FNS had previously defined variety so that different items from the same species (e.g., apples and apple juice or ground beef and beef hotdogs) could not count as two separate varieties because they come from the same species.
“Convenience stores and other neighborhood stores face storage and size constraints, as well as delivery limitations, which would have made FNS’s original definition of variety almost impossible to comply with even for the most sophisticated retail operations,” said Anna Ready, NACS director of government relations. “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 looks forward to working with FNS to ensure the final rule provides the greatest possible flexibility for the program’s retail partners. The association will file comments by the June 4th deadline.
For more information, contact Anna Ready, NACS director of government relations. firstname.lastname@example.org.