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New Years’ Resolutions Start Early for SNAP Participants

We are in the final stretch of 2016: Thanksgiving is over, and grocery retailers are looking forward to holiday sales fueled by Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and New Year’s Eve celebrations. However, certain things will be changing, especially for retailers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants.

USDA released the final changes to SNAP regarding healthy food choices which requires authorized retail establishments to increase their inventory on Dec. 8. Previously, a retailer could be authorized if they maintained a minimum of 12 “healthy” items. Under the new rules, a retailer will be required to maintain an inventory of 84 such healthy items. USDA claims the changes are in keeping with the original purpose of the program.

USDA noted that over 1,200 comments were received after the proposed rule was published in the Federal Register. The updated rule incorporated feedback from the comments. Multi-ingredient foods will count towards retailer eligibility, for one. In addition, existing regulatory requirements that determine whether a location is an ineligible restaurant or an eligible SNAP retailer were relaxed, likely in response to the growth of the “grocerant” in retail circles.

USDA also changed the definition of accessory foods to help prevent the purchase of snack or “junk” foods. However, USDA noted that the increased definition of variety should make it easier for stores to meet the requirements mandated by the Agricultural Act of 2014. Additionally, the original number of items a retailer must have in stock was halved from the six set forth in the original document, providing retailers with more leeway in meeting the new requirements.

The federal government, however, isn’t the only player involved in changes with SNAP. Under a proposed bill in Arkansas, citizens in the state would not be able to purchase junk food with food stamps. Presented by Rep. Mary Bentley of Perryville, the law calls for the state Department of Human Services to petition USDA for a waiver to the program. Although Bentley does not fully list the foods that would be prohibited under the bill, she notes chips, sodas and candy bars would likely fit into the mold, reported The Washington Times (Dec. 11).

Clearly, interest in healthier foods spiked during 2016. From soda taxes to an increasing focus on healthier meals, the food industry is turning towards items that improve overall health. It seems USDA is following suit with a set of early New Year’s resolutions to keep the nation’s most vulnerable eaters healthy.