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Enhancing Retailer Standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Last Published: 02/14/2017

The USDA remains committed to improving low-income Americans’ access to nutritious foods and supporting healthy lifestyle choices by SNAP participants.  Understanding the significant concerns raised by stakeholders on the proposed rule, we are confident the final rule will maintain the intent of Congress to provide a greater variety of healthy options to SNAP participants while ensuring no participants lose access to stores in their communities.  The final rule also helps safeguard SNAP integrity.   

One page summary for store owners

This final rule increases the minimum stock required for stores that want to accept SNAP benefits as a form of payment. Currently SNAP authorized stores will have until Jan. 17, 2018 to come into compliance. The full text of the rule and related documents are at the bottom of this webpage.

Implementation of Stocking Requirements: New applicant stores will be expected to stock the required minimum of 84 items starting May 17, 2017.

The table below shows the number of items required under the new requirement, the proposed requirement, and the old requirement.

New Requirement 4 7 3 84
Proposed Requirement 4 7 6 168
Old Requirement 4 3 1 12


The Four Staple Food Categories: These four categories are: 1) vegetables or fruits; 2) dairy products; 3) meat, poultry, or fish; and 4) bread or cereals.

Criterion A: To participate in SNAP stores need to meet either Criterion A, or Criterion B.  The final requirement that stores stock 84 food items affects stores that are authorized under Criterion A.  Criterion A requires that a store offers for sale, on a continuous basis, a certain number of qualifying varieties of staple foods in each of the four staple food categories.  Most stores are authorized under Criterion A.

Criterion B: Stores may instead be authorized under Criterion B if more than 50 percent of the total gross retail sales of the store come from the sale of staple foods.  Specialty stores, like butcher shops or greengrocers, are often authorized under Criterion B.

Staple Foods: Staple foods are generally considered to be basic items of food that make up a significant portion of an individual’s diet and are usually prepared at home and consumed as a major component of a meal. Some examples include tomatoes, ground beef, milk, or rice.

Variety: Variety means different kinds of products in each of the four staple food categories.  Variety is usually defined by the main ingredient or kind of product.  Under longstanding FNS policy, different brands, formats, flavors, or types of the same product are not considered different varieties.  Apples, carrots, and pears are considered three different varieties in the vegetables or fruits staple food category, but tomato sauce, tomatoes, and 100% tomato juice are only considered one variety in the vegetables or fruits staple food category (tomato).  A list of examples of acceptable varieties in each of the staple food categories is provided on page 66-74 of the final rule and can be viewed separately here:

Accessory Food Items: Snacks and desserts, such as potato chips and ice cream, are not considered staple foods.  Spices, most beverages, seasonings, and other food items that complement or supplement meals are also not considered staple foods.  These products are considered accessory food items. While still eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits, accessory food items do not count towards Criterion A as one of the required 84 items.  A full list of accessory foods is provided on page 75-80 of the final rule and can be viewed separately here: 

Stocking Unit: A stocking unit is a can, a bag, or whatever standard package size a product is usually sold in.  A list of examples of stocking units is provided on page 74-75 of the final rule and can be viewed separately here: 

Multiple Ingredient Food: Products consisting of foods from more than one staple food category are considered multiple ingredient foods.  Examples include a can of corned beef hash, a frozen bean and cheese burrito, and a can of cream of mushroom soup.  Under this final rule multiple ingredient foods will continue to be counted as staple foods in the category of their main ingredient.  This means that a can of cream of mushroom soup with a listed main ingredient of “mushrooms” would be considered a staple food in the vegetables or fruits staple food category.

Restaurants: Old SNAP rules generally prohibited restaurants from accepting SNAP benefits as payment and prohibit the purchase of hot food with SNAP benefits. Some restaurants, however, have obtained authorization by selling food cold and then offering to cook or heat it on the premises for customers. On May 17, 2017, restaurants will no longer be allowed to accept SNAP benefits if more than 50% of their total gross sales come from prepared foods cooked or heated on-site by the retailer, before or after purchase. This provision does not impact the existing allowance of a State restaurant program to provide access to elderly, disabled, or homeless SNAP participants.

What does FNS consider a restaurant?

Need for Access: If a store that operates in an isolated or underserved community is able to meet neither Criterion A, nor Criterion B, then it may be considered under the need for access provision of the final rule.  This provision allows FNS to consider other factors when making a SNAP authorization determination and thereby accommodates small businesses and serves as a protection against potential loss of food access.  FNS is committed to ensuring no participants are left without access as a result of this rule.

Public Disclosure of Firms Sanctioned for SNAP Violations: Starting on Jan. 17, 2017, whenever a store breaks SNAP rules that store owner’s name, the name of the store, and the nature of the violation will be made public.


Links to Full Documents

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