The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defended a proposed rule Monday that could drive many stores out of the food stamp program.
The USDA proposed the rule Feb. 16 in the hopes of promoting healthier eating among food stamp users. Stores that want to continue accepting food stamps must provide a wide variety of meats and vegetables.
“We know that stores benefit from the revenue; that’s important to us,” USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon told The Wall Street Journal. “But we also believe that with the right to receive these taxpayer benefits for the food, that there ought to be just a basic minimum of healthy foods.”
Concannon said the USDA could change some parts of the rule before its final implementation to address concerns. The final rule likely won’t look much different from the original proposal. The USDA wants the rule implemented by the end of the year.
Some lawmakers, business owners and industry experts have warned the proposed rule could hurt small businesses and food stamp recipients. Many stores that accept food stamps are small and lack variety when it comes to food options, and could be disqualified.
Walmart and other larger retailers could gain an unfair advantage since they have the size and resources to accommodate the new rule. Food stamp recipients in neighborhoods with larger retailers could be left with no other options but the bigger stores.
The USDA is the main federal agency tasked with overseeing the national food stamp program. It works with state agencies to make sure benefits are properly distributed to qualified individuals and families struggling to feed themselves. The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014.
The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December, 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million. States have also begun implementing work requirements which were waived in response to the last recession.
The USDA Office of Inspector General did not respond to whether it will launch an investigation when asked by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
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