February 19, 2016

The USDA proposed a new set of standards on Tuesday that would offer a greater selection and wider variety of healthy foods to those who rely on food stamps. This is a huge leap for health, as more than 46 million Americans are enrolled in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a program designed to assist individuals and families experiencing temporary food hardships, due to unemployment, stagnant wages, and/or natural disasters. (To put it into perspective, that's the entire population of the state of California and New York combined.)

SNAP retailers are currently required to stock at least 3 varieties of foods in each of 4 groups: breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; dairy; and meats, poultry, and seafood. The new proposal would increase the requirement from 3 to 7 varieties in each group, with at least 3 of the food groups including an offering of perishable foods.

Okay, so what does that mean? Food stamp users can now more easily purchase fresh produce, as opposed to canned. In total, that's 168 healthy items on the inventory list for SNAP retailers, which some say could actually limit the industry's ability to participate--not exactly a good thing. But Kevin Concannon, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, said the department would try to ensure that the new rules don't affect SNAP participants' access to retailers. Let's hope this is true.

Potato chips and Skittles would still be fair game, as food stamp dollars don't exclude junk food: soft drinks, candy, cookies, and snack crackers are all included in the program. (Alcohol and tobacco products, however, are not.) But the bottom line is that if the new proposal passes, participants in the program will have access to a far greater selection of healthy foods. And that's always a good thing.

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