NACS cautions that prohibiting convenience stores from accepting SNAP benefits will negatively affect not only retailers but their customers and communities
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants retailers who accept food stamps to stock more food choices, a move that could harm tens of thousands of smaller stores, like convenience stores, currently in the program, Washington Free Beacon reports. Earlier this year, the USDA unveiled a proposed rule change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would mandate authorized retailers to have seven varieties of foods in four staple food groups on a regular basis, with at least six units per variety on the shelves.
“For small retailers there is limited space on shelves and coolers, and the proposed regulation would mandate that we have 168 single ingredient staple foods on display on shelves at all times,” said Anna Ready, NACS director of government relations.
“They changed the underlying definition of staple foods to exclude foods that have multiple ingredients so that a mixed fruit cup or can of chicken noodle soup could no longer be counted towards a retailer’s stocking requirements,” Ready said. “This is extremely onerous for small format retailers with limited storage space and it would be very costly to change supply and delivery, or even remodel a store, to comply with this.”
The rule would also change the definition of a retail food store to accept SNAP. “A store would no longer be considered a retail food store if 15% or more of your total food sales are of foods that are heated or cooked on site. That provision alone pushes out 47,000 convenience stores immediately of the 106,531 convenience stores that participate in SNAP,” Ready said.
Ready agreed that there should be more healthful options for beneficiaries, but she also pointed out that it’s also important to ensure that convenience stores and other small format retailers are eligible to stay in the program. “Convenience stores play a fundamental role in SNAP because often times we are the most convenient place—in terms of both locations and hours of operation—for a beneficiary to easily access food for their family,” she said. “If a majority of convenience stores are pushed out of SNAP, which our data indicates would be the case if the proposed rule goes into effect, this will ultimately hurt the beneficiaries who rely on us.”
However, the USDA said that the rule change is about helping lower-income residents. “This rule has always been about increasing access and choices of healthier food for low-income Americans,” said a USDA spokesperson. “It is disappointing to see some take a position against increasing healthier food options for our low-income Americans.”
The comment period for the proposed rule closed in May. Now the agency is analyzing those comments as it prepares to finalize the rule.