Posted February 18, 2016

Under a proposed rule change announced Tuesday by the USDA, retailers who accept food stamps would have to stock a wider variety of healthy food options or risk losing their ability to acceptSupplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) money.

The AP reports that the proposed rules are designed to ensure that the 46 million-plus Americans who use food stamps have better access to healthy foods. A person using food stamp dollars could still purchase junk food, but would have more options in the store to buy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and bread.

According to the Federal Register website, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is proposing changes that address depth of stock, amend the definition of staple foods, and amend the definition of “retail food store” to clarify when a retailer is a restaurant rather than a retail food store. The rulemaking also proposes that FNS begin disclosing to the public specific information about retailers who have violated SNAP rules.

The 2014 Farm Bill increases the requirement that certain SNAP authorized retail food stores have available on a continuous basis at least three varieties of items in each of four staple food categories to a mandatory statutory minimum of seven varieties. Further, the 2014 Farm Bill increases the minimum number of categories in which perishable foods are required from two to three.

Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement, “USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet. 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.”

However, in a message on its website, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), an industry trade group, says the rule change goes “significantly beyond” the statutory requirements in the 2014 Farm Bill and concluded that, “As currently drafted, the proposal will make it increasingly difficult for convenience store owners and operators to participate in SNAP, which in turn will negatively impact the many SNAP recipients that use their benefits at NACS members’ stores.”

Comments on this proposed rule can be made via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal until April 18, 2016.