WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., have joined a bipartisan group of Senators raising concerns that a proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule could limit food access in rural areas.
Wicker and Cochran are among 47 Senators who signed a letter asking USDA to revise its controversial proposed rule on retailer eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rule would require all retailers, including smaller food suppliers like convenience stores, to stock seven different varieties of food products within four “staple food” groups in order to be eligible to accept SNAP benefits.
While the USDA intended the rule to increase access to healthy foods, it would actually limit food access for many people in rural communities--contrary to congressional intent in the 2014 farm bill. For example, compliance costs could prevent many small retailers from accepting SNAP in areas where larger food retailers are not present or accessible.
The Senators encouraged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack “to seriously consider the combined impact of the requirements in this proposed rule and 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.”
“Unfortunately, the combined impact of the proposed changes will likely result in the removal of a large number of small format retailers and small businesses from SNAP. This raises questions regarding the ability of FNS [USDA Food and Nutrition Service] to mitigate the food access challenges as Congress intended,” the letter said.
Within the 2014 farm bill, Congress stressed maintaining critical nutrition assistance for families. At the same time, the law included strong provisions to fight trafficking, fraud and misuse within the SNAP program and to invest savings in new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services. The Senate FY2017 Agriculture Appropriations Bill outlines a $1.167 billion decrease in mandatory spending for SNAP next year due to declining enrollments.
In addition to Wicker and Cochran, Senators signing the letter include Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., John Boozman, R-Ark., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Burr, R-N.C., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, John Hoeven, R-N.D., James Inhofe, R-Okla., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Angus King, I-Maine, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Jack Reed, D-R.I., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I..
The letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack is available here: http://bit.ly/2aQMLjX