Food Stamp Healthy Food AccessLiveWell Weighs In: USDA Rule to Enhance Food Stamp Healthy Food Access

LiveWell Colorado has submitted public comment regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Proposed Rule: Enhancing Retailer Standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Background

USDA Proposed Rule to Enhance Access to Healthy Food Options in SNAP – FNS recently issued a proposed rule implementing a 2014 Farm Bill provision requiring certain 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.” According to the USDA, “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 food 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.”

Food Stamp Healthy Food Access in ColoradoLiveWell’s View

As a statewide organization committed to reducing obesity by decreasing barriers to healthy eating and physical activity, one of our primary goals is to ensure that all Coloradans have access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages that are effectively promoted. This goal aligns with the proposed rule to enhance the stocking requirements for SNAP authorized retailers.

The Proposed Rule has potential to improve the retail landscape across the country, not just for SNAP participants but for all who purchase items in SNAP retail locations. Efforts like those outlined in the SNAP Retail Standards Proposed Rule will help level the playing field for all retail types – including smaller retailers like convenience stores, corner stores and bodegas.

There is a critical need for improved access to healthy, affordable options for SNAP recipients and strengthening eligibility requirements for SNAP retailers is an important element to building the right infrastructure. If implemented effectively, stronger standards could be an important component to a broad range of obesity prevention and food security strategies.

However, if the efforts to change the food environment are not implemented correctly, small retailers could struggle to meet the requirements and stay open, while SNAP recipients could be worse off with extremely limited access to food outlets offering healthy, affordable food options.

To support retailers as much as possible, and to mitigate the risk of reduced food access if a retailer is unable to meet the enhanced requirements, LiveWell Colorado strongly recommends:

  1. Phased‐in implementation for retailers;
  2. Substantial technical assistance, training, and support for providing and marketing healthy, affordable items and procuring necessary equipment to accommodate the enhanced standards (such as refrigeration). This technical assistance can be improved by examining the best practices gleaned from national models such as the Denver Healthy Corner Store Initiative; and,
  3. Allowance of targeted waivers in specific, well-defined circumstances. A waiver option should be in place in order to mitigate food deserts due to lack of compliance.

Our recommendations, and broader responses to other components of the proposed rule, are discussed in more detail in LiveWell’s public comment letter. Individuals and organizations are welcome to use this letter as a template, or edit/adapt/borrow from any or all components, if it is a helpful resource for drafting their own comments.

Comments are due by Wednesday, May 18—click here to submit now.

We welcome further dialogue about the content of our letter. If this proposed rule is adopted, we look forward to discussing how LiveWell Colorado and our many partners can be resources for implementation. If you’d like to connect with us on this issue, please send an email to advocacy@livewellcolorado.org.

Thank you for working to ensure healthy food access for people receiving SNAP!

Karen Moldovan
Director of Policy
LiveWell Colorado