The U.S. Senate is worried that a proposed rule would push smaller stores out of the food stamps program, limiting many rural communities’ access to the taxpayer-funded food assistance.
A group of Republican and Democrat senators believe the rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would make it difficult for smaller food sellers to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday, the 47 senators, including members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, claim that the rule, which restricts how much hot food SNAP eligible stores can sell, would “likely result in the removal of a large number of small-format retailers and small businesses from SNAP.
Small food sellers like neighborhood shops, drugstores and convenience stores, are often the only available grocers for many communities and might decide not to participate in the SNAP program, the senators argue.
In their letter, the senators ask USDA to revise the rule to “better balance the importance of ensuring the availability of nutritious food and providing adequate access for SNAP recipients in all parts of the country.”(RELATED: USDA Defends Plan To Hold Food Stamp Stores To A Healthy Standard)
“The cost and burden of complying with the proposed rule could be too high for these retailers to continue participating in SNAP,” the letter says. “This would result in the exact opposite of what was intended — it would reduce access to healthy food for SNAP participants.”
First announced in February for public comment, the rule would ban retailers that sell too much hot food from accepting SNAP benefits. Specifically, stores must make 85 percent of their food revenue from fresh and uncooked items, the rule states.
The USDA’s proposed rule is one of many measures designed to encourage food stamp recipients “to purchase more nutritious food for home preparation and consumption,” and would also require that stores provide a greater variety of food staples like vegetables, meats and dairy products.
“It is disappointing to see some take a position against increasing healthier food options for our most vulnerable,” a USDA spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation in a statement. “This measure is the latest of several taken by USDA over the past seven years to provide our most vulnerable Americans with access to healthy foods, especially in food deserts where access to healthy food is severely limited.”
The spokesperson said that the USDA is confident the final rule will adequately address the Senate’s concerns.
“We are now in the process of analyzing comments in order to prepare the final rule and we are confident the final rule, when proposed, will succeed in increasing food choices without harming small retailers,” the spokesperson said.
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