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By Casey Wooten
May 12 — Convenience store owners hit back against a proposed rule expanding food stocking requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants, telling lawmakers it would drive them to turn away SNAP recipients.
Announced by the Agriculture Department in February, the rule would mandate that food retailers participating in the SNAP program broaden the variety of food offered to include seven varieties in each of four categories: fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and cereals, and meats. In total, SNAP participants would need to carry 168 different food items, with a specified number being perishable.
That could heavily impact convenience stores and gas stations, which say it would require them to stock products customers won't buy.
“This proposal will mean stores will either leave the program or more food will be spoiled or wasted before it can be sold,” Doug Beech, counsel for Iowa-based Casey's General Stores, said at a May 12 hearing before the House Agriculture Committee.
Beech said limited shelf space and distribution capacity means his company would likely have to leave the SNAP program if the administration enacted the rules.
Carl Martincich, vice president of human resources and risk management for Oklahoma-based Love's Travel Stops and Country Stores, called the rule “completely incompatible” with his company's business model.
Martincich pointed to a provision requiring that no more than 15 percent of a SNAP retailers' total sales come from food meant to be cooked or heated on site. Many Love's locations have 24-hour restaurants that serve long-haul truckers, and the rule would include revenue from those services as well, he said.
“Virtually no truck stop would satisfy this criteria,” Martincich said.
Public health advocates back the rule, however, saying that it would help SNAP recipients access healthier foods, particularly in areas where a conventional grocery store is difficult to access.
Additionally, it would help crack down on unscrupulous businesses who take SNAP dollars for non-approved items such as alcohol and cigarettes, they say.
The comment period for the rule closed in April, with stakeholders awaiting further action from the USDA.
The regulations stem from a provision in the 2014 farm bill requiring the USDA ensure SNAP recipients have enough food options to receive a balanced diet.
The National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing—whose members include 7-Eleven, Inc. and Speedway LLC—is circulating a letter to lawmakers asking them to oppose the rule.
“If these provisions are enacted, it will push tens of thousands of convenience stores out of the SNAP program—including many of the stores in your district,” the letter said.
One way opponents may choose is to fight the rule is the appropriations process. In April, lawmakers inserted language into the House's fiscal year 2017 agriculture funding bill that would nix new regulations governing contract farmers and the large processors who buy their livestock.
The amendment would ban funding to advance the USDA's Grain, Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration from finalizing a rule to expand the definition of unfair contracting practices, set a base price for growers of the same kind of livestock and increase transparency by requiring processors to release sample contracts (See previous story, 04/20/16).
That bill awaits action on the House floor, where an amendment could crop up related to the SNAP stocking rule. Lawmakers could also try to insert language into the Senate version of the agriculture appropriations bill, which is expected to get a subcommittee markup May 17 (see related story in this issue).
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Text of the proposed rule is available at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-02-17/pdf/2016-03006.pdf.
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