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USDA to Retailers: Beef Up SNAP Food Staples

Feb 18, 2016

The 2014 Farm Bill included new requirements that affect the eligibility standards for food retailers that are authorized to accept benefits issued through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Yesterday, the Food Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture codified those changes in a proposed rule that would require the stores to stock additional varieties of foods considered staples, including more perishable products, on a continuous basis.

According to USDA, the proposed changes will improve SNAP recipient access to a variety of healthy food options and reinforce the intent of SNAP, which expects participants to use benefits to purchase foods for home preparation and consumption. The proposed rule defines staple foods in four categories: dairy products; meat, poultry or fish; bread or cereals; and vegetables or fruits.

“This provision was one of several in the 2014 Farm Bill that impacted the operation of the SNAP program, but it did not reduce SNAP benefits or limit eligible SNAP food purchases,” said Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs.

The 2014 Farm Bill amended the Food and Nutrition Act to increase the required minimum variety of foods in each of these categories from three to seven. It also requires retail stores to stock perishables in three of these categories, instead of two, to be eligible to participate in the program. The proposed rule includes these requirements and recommends a minimum number of six stocking-keeping units (SKUs) per variety. Multi-ingredient foods, such as pizza, macaroni and cheese, snacks and dessert items consumed between meals are not considered staple foods, but SNAP participants would still be allowed to purchase them, according to the proposed rule.

Retailer or Restaurant?

USDA is also proposing changes to clarify when a retailer is acting as a restaurant rather than a retail food store.

“In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress affirmed that SNAP-authorized retailers must sell food for home preparation and consumption,” said Saunders, adding that the proposed rule would require at least 85 percent of a retailer’s total food sales to be for foods that are not cooked or heated onsite.

Retailers that participate in SNAP but do not stock sufficient staple foods to meet the new requirements would have up to one year after the final rule is issued to modify their staple food stock to retain eligibility.

USDA will hold a 60-day comment period before finalizing any changes in the proposed rule. Comments on this proposed rule must be received by the Food and Nutrition Service on or before April 17.

For more information, contact Saunders at

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