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USDA Proposes New Rules to Increase Access to Healthy Food for SNAP Recipients

Finally, some good news for SNAP recipients. After continued battles to cut funding to the former Food Stamp program, potential new rules will increase access to healthier options for SNAP recipients.

Let’s take a stroll back to 2014 when Congress passed the Farm Bill. It included a requirement for the Agriculture Department to develop regulations that would assure authorized SNAP retailers stock a wider array of healthy food options. Currently, 46 million low-income individuals are SNAP recipients, nearly 50% are children, 40% are households with earnings and 10% are elderly. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is an effective and efficient way to positively impact the health of no and low income citizens.

The USDA rules would affect up to 46 million Americans who use food stamps and would not dictate what people buy or eat (alcohol and tobacco products, however, are not allowed) but will increase the healthy options available to them. According to Kevin Concannon, the USDA Undersecretary, the department is committed to expanding access to healthier foods for SNAP recipients. On February 16, 2016 the Agriculture Department proposed regulations for all authorized food stamp retailers to stock a wider variety of healthy food choices.

Here are the new regulations for an authorized retailer:

  • Must stock at least 7 varieties in each food group: The groups are fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, bread and cereal, and dairy.
  • At least 3 of the items in each group must be perishable items.
  • Required to have enough stock of each item in a group to ensure they are always readily available; the minimum is 6 units of each item. That is an increase to 168 items that are considered healthy by the USDA standard.
  • Public disclosure of disqualified and sanctions retailers for violations of the rules.

That’s a huge change from the current standard of at least 3 varieties of food in each of the four food groups and dramatically increases the opportunities for families to get out to the fast and processed food rut that lack of affordability typically pens them into.

The USDA recognizes the potential hardship for convenience stores to qualify under the new rules and wants to be sure that these rules do not inadvertently limit or inhibit the access to food retailers for low-income families. Provisions might be established to waive requirements in some areas. Urban areas like Newark and Paterson, where a food desert exists, may need these accommodations but, as the Agriculture Department improves approval processes for retailers and larger stores move into these deserts, the access to more nutritious options at the store will become a reality.

In New Jersey, a family of 4 with a monthly income of $3,739 per month qualifies for some food stamp benefits. The maximum annual income for a family of 4 is $31,525 to receive benefits and the maximum payout per month is $649 or $1.80 per meal per person. These new rules are one of many ways the USDA is working to expand access to healthy food. It is piloting incentives to purchase healthy foods at various venues like farmers’ markets and small grocery stores, to encourage increased purchase of local produce. The Farm Bill also set aside $100 million for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 that resulted in access to farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmers. This has increased the number of authorized locations by 6,000 and it is expected that the USDA will expand these grants and programs.

Assuring that participants are not hindered in accessing food as part of these regulations is an important consideration but, an equally important part of the new rules will be the required public disclosure of SNAP retailers that are disqualified from accepting SNAP dollars or are sanctioned by the USDA for violations of the rules. “SNAP violations are a serious matter,” Concannon said. “Public disclosure of this information is intended to serve as a deterrent against retailer fraud. The information would provide the public with insight into the integrity of these businesses and individuals.” The disclosures will include the name of the store, address, officers’ and owners’ names and the nature of the violation.

Table to Table has always believed in the necessity of fresh and nutritious food for everyone. Their benefits are even more significant for people who are hunger insecure. We applaud every effort made to increase the amount of healthy, perishable food made available to the areas that need it the most. And as more and more retailers provide greater quantities of fresh food, Table to Table’s trucks will be right there to rescue any and all that is in excess, enabling us to bring even more wholesome food to the low-income communities we serve daily.

REAL PEOPLE, REAL STORIES.

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