SNAP politics: strange bedfellows
Wouldn’t it be useful if stores that accept SNAP benefits stocked some other real—as opposed to packaged—foods in addition to the apples, oranges, and bananas most of them now seem to carry (witness Walgreens)?
Congress thought so when it passed the 2014 farm bill. This intended
to expand or preserve the availability of staple foods in underserved areas with moderate- and low income populations by maintaining or increasing the number of retail outlets that offer an assortment of perishable food and staple food items, as determined by the Secretary, in those areas.
In response, USDA proposed new regulations to improve what SNAP retailers had in stock.
The 2014 Farm Bill required USDA to develop regulations to ensure that stores that accept SNAP offer a broader variety of healthy food choices. The stocking provisions in the proposed rule would require SNAP-authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options so that recipients have access to more healthy food choices. SNAP retailers would be required to offer seven varieties of qualifying foods in four staple food groups for sale on a continuous basis, along with perishable foods in at least three of the four staple food groups. The staple foods groups are dairy products; breads and cereals; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables. In addition, the proposal calls for retailers to stock at least six units within each variety, leading to a total of at least 168 required food items per store.
Guess what? Some retailers don’t like this idea.
What to do when you don’t like food regulations? Go straight to Congress.
Now the House agriculture committee is complaining to USDA about the rule. It says that USDA’s estimate of the cost per store ($140) is wrong. Retailers say it will cost them $5000 per month to implement.
Who’s right? Hence: politics.
The Congressional Black Caucus also wants the USDA to back off on this rule. It says communities need these retailers (the quality of the foods they sell is not an issue, apparently). Here is its letter.
Civil Eats has a good summary of the issues.
It troubles me greatly that SNAP divides advocates for the poor and advocates for health. Don’t all of us want the recipients of federal food assistance to have access to healthful food choices?