Miss. Senators object USDA proposal for stricter SNAP requirements

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, August 10, 2016

U.S. Senators for Mississippi Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran joined a written petition against a U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
According to a press release from Senator Wicker’s office, the two are part of a 47 bipartisan senatorial group who have signed a letter asking the USDA to revise a proposal that would change the retail eligibility requirements for SNAP.
According to data from the USDA, in 2011 there were 11,852 SNAP beneficiaries in Pearl River County. This number has steadily increased since 2000. The U.S. Census Bureau data shows that 12,125 people in the county, or 22 percent of the population, were SNAP participants in 2013.
In 2010, the USDA reported 5.92 percent of the county’s population reported low income and low access to grocery stores; 3.29 percent of children, 2.4 percent of seniors and 3.56 percent of households with no car also had little access to a grocery store.
USDA data from 2012 reports a total of 57.33 SNAP authorized stores in Pearl River County, a 17.41 percent increase from 2008. However, the same data also shows an overall decrease in the number of grocery stores, supercenters, convenience stores and specialized food stores in the county between 2007 and 2012.
A SNAP retailer map from the USDA shows that as of July 12, there were 62 SNAP retailers in Pearl River County.
In February, the USDA announced a proposed rule to increase access to healthy foods for SNAP recipients by requiring participating retailers to stock a wider variety of choices, a USDA press release states.
“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Keith Concannon said in the release. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”
The proposed change would require SNAP retailers to offer seven varieties of food from three of four different food groups, including dairy; breads and cereals; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables, the USDA release states.
“Compliance costs could prevent many small retailers from accepting SNAP in areas where larger food retailers are not present or accessible,” Wicker’s release states.
The letter, addressed to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack, expressed concern that the proposed rule will limit food access to the 45 million people who utilize SNAP.
The group of senators contend that the proposal will prove to be another obstacle for SNAP beneficiaries and retailers, particularly in rural areas where there is limited access to large supermarkets, the letter states.
“The cost and burden of complying with the proposed rule could be too high for these retailers to continue participating in SNAP. This would result in the exact opposite of what is intended—it would reduce access to healthy food for SNAP participants,” the letter states.
The USDA proposal is part of an effort to increase incentives to purchase healthy foods and increase access to farmers markets or small groceries, the USDA release states.
The senators asked for the USDA to “seriously consider the combined requirements in this proposed rule,” the letter states.

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