New Food Stamp Rules Set Up Tussle Between Corner Stores and Big Box Marts

The USDA’s new stricter rules would increase larger stores’ share in the $74 billion program at the expense of smaller stores
SNAP

Changes in the program have left the USDA and Congress on different sides.

The USDA is pushing for food stamp acceptors to provide a wider range of healthier options on their shelves, putting smaller stores in a compromising position.

Because of the proposal, the place of corner stores may be encroached on by larger chains like Walmart and Kroger in the $74 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

As the USDA changes the SNAP program, it wants stores redeeming food stamps to carry more types of fresh meats and vegetables, while having fewer hot, ready-made meals. To Walmart, who already carries a wide variety of foods in its massive stores, this is not a problem. However, to the 195,000 smaller stores, this means adding up to 168 items to their shelves that might never sell before they spoil.

SNAP has been redeemed more often at smaller stores recently; from 2010 to 2015, the percentage of SNAP funds paid to corner stores doubled to 11.6 percent, or $8 billion. However, these regulations would put a major dent in those numbers. The rule changes would cost local stores an average of $540 the first year, and $4,200 over the next 20 years, when adjusted for inflation, according to the National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing.

The program is part of a larger push by the Obama administration to improve America’s diet. It has banned trans fats, pushed for healthier school lunches, and now wants to make the food stamp program more nutritious — something Maine governor Paul LePage agrees with.

However, smaller retailers think that these items will not be bought with food stamps and will be a waste of money to the stores. Al Patel, a manager at a Snappy Convenience Store in Chicago, said his customers use food stamps to buy chips and soda. Adding coolers with fresh meat probably won’t change that. “We tried that a long time ago,” but we didn’t sell much, he said.

As a result, the measure has faced bipartisan opposition. Because of this, the USDA plans on revising the regulations, but maintains that it will push forward with the core program.

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