Use It. Share It. Grow It
In early 2014, Congress passed and President Obama signed a comprehensive Farm Bill that ensures convenience stores can continue to play a meaningful role in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or the Program).
Leading up to the Farm Bill’s passage, NACS spent almost two years educating members of Congress and the Obama Administration on the important role that convenience stores play in the Program, particularly for financially challenged Americans that live in rural and deep urban environments. This education effort was in response to the 2012, Farm Bill, which was never enacted into law, that included language that would have prohibited any food retailer — including convenience stores — from redeeming SNAP benefits if 45% or more of the retailer’s revenue is derived from combined sales of hot food, tobacco and alcohol. NACS data indicates that this provision would have precluded most convenience stores in the United States from participating in the Program.
In 2013, the Senate modified this language to grant the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) substantial leeway to deny retailers the ability to participate in SNAP based on a variety of factors (the House farm bill did not contain similar language). Specifically, the Senate bill would have allowed USDA to promulgate regulations that restrict food stores’ ability to redeem SNAP benefits based on sales of items excluded from the Program, such as alcohol, hot food and tobacco. These items are referred to as “excepted items.”
Due in large part to education efforts by NACS, the House and Senate reached a compromise agreement that imposes some additional obligations on SNAP retailers, while preserving the important role convenience stores play in the Program.
First, it will require SNAP retailers to implement point-of-sale technology systems that will not redeem SNAP benefits for the purchase of ineligible items, and will further preclude cashiers from manually overriding this prohibition. A majority of convenience store operators already have such systems in place. For those that do not, they will eventually need to upgrade their systems, although this provision does not become effective until the Department of Agriculture issues regulations implementing it. This is likely to take at least several months.
Second, the compromise agreement requires SNAP retailers to stock at least seven different items in each of the four “staple food” categories. (Prior law required only three items in each category.)
Finally, the compromise requires SNAP retailers to stock at least one “perishable” food item in at least three of the four staple food categories. (Prior law required perishable items in only two of the staple food categories.)
Many financially challenged Americans that reside in both urban and rural communities rely on convenience stores to redeem their SNAP benefits. More than 18,000 convenience stores currently reside in so-called “food deserts” where SNAP beneficiaries do not have access to traditional grocery stores, and the local convenience store is their only outlet to redeem this benefit. Prohibiting convenience stores from accepting SNAP benefits will negatively affect not only retailers but their customers and communities.
NACS supports the compromise agreement because it represents a dramatic improvement for the convenience store industry compared with earlier iterations of the Farm Bill. Most importantly, it allows convenience stores to continue to participate in the Program on a level playing field with other channels of commerce.
President Obama signed the Farm Bill into law on February 7, 2014. NACS put together a compliance document outlining SNAP retailers’ obligations under the new Farm Bill.