USDA Proposal Threatens Rural America’s Access to Assistance Programs

This week the House Agriculture Committee heard from a variety of retailers, including Love’s Travel Stops in Oklahoma, about their experience working with SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Under a new USDA proposal, there is a growing concern from many retailers and convenience stores that they will no longer be able to accept SNAP benefits.

USDA’s new criteria calls for much stricter requirements on the number and variety of foods a retailer must stock and sell to participate in the program. It also disqualifies businesses where readymade or prepared meals account for over 15 percent of its sales.

This may make sense for more urban, densely-populated areas but for folks in rural America who live 20, 30 or more miles from the nearest grocery store, the new standards are far too stringent. Smaller retailers are disproportionately impacted because they are simply unable to keep up with stricter staffing and food stocking requirements. These sorts of business decisions make it significantly more difficult for retailers who are looking to open up shop in regions without large grocery stores.

Assistance programs like SNAP serve an important purpose to help folks who are struggling to put food on the table.

It’s also an essential reality for the development and passage of any modern Farm Bill that maintains critical protections and resources for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. We made big reforms in the 2014 Farm Bill to rein in excessive spending and promote SNAP accountability by tightening the standards for eligibility and implementing commonsense restrictions.

Several years of hard work and bipartisan negotiations went into crafting and passing the 2014 Farm Bill, and I believe the law is very clear when it comes to which retailers may or may not participate in the food stamp program.

That’s why both Republicans and Democrats on the Agriculture Committee are troubled by USDA’s attempt to rewrite portions of the existing legislation. Estimates suggest that under the new policy tens of thousands of smaller convenience stores throughout rural America and the rest of the country would effectively be locked out from accepting SNAP benefits.

Families who currently rely on these assistance programs would be forced to travel even further for affordable and sustainable groceries or lose access to them altogether.

In fact, many of these stores have even indicated that a vast majority of customers using food stamps at their locations are residents of the community, not just those passing through.

The bottom line is that SNAP must remain accountable and accessible for all Americans – not just those in heavily populated parts of the country. I have joined several of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in a letter to the USDA requesting that they stick to what the 2014 Farm Bill laid out.

As I’ve said on numerous occasions, the Farm Bill is not written for the good times but for when times aren’t so good. This applies to both the production and the nutrition side of things.

I look forward to continuing our work with the USDA and hope that we can effectively implement the reforms laid out in the Farm Bill.

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