On February 18, 2016 SB 626 was introduced “requiring the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources to seek a waiver within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to allow that benefits issued under the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program be limited to purchases with the same or similar nutritional value as purchases allowable under the Women’s, Infant and Children Program.” This policy sounds healthy but we need time for a closer look. SB 626 in its current form generates dangerous confusion about the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women’s Infants and Children Program and how both program’s nutritional standards are regulated. DHHR, the Department of Agriculture and the people of WV need to understand the intent of SB 626.
West Virginians need to know more about SB 626. 359,000 SNAP beneficiaries should have the power to choose where they shop for SNAP eligible foods and 1,892 food retailers need time to adapt to higher nutritional standards.
The USDA’s SNAP and WIC standards establish eligible foods that must be stocked by retailers and may be purchased by eligible beneficiaries of these federally funded programs. In 2014, the USDA’s SNAP program invested $476,134,200 in food retail and household nutrition in WV. In the same year the WIC program invested $26,254,988 to support mothers and small children. 1 in 5 WV citizens depends on these programs. 1,892 retailers depend on these federal funds as a source of income. SNAP and WIC are essential to the nutrition and health of our state. Raising standards or restricting access without a clear rationale for doing so can have negative impacts. Indeed, the USDA opposes state-level food restrictions of SNAP because as they write:
- No clear standards exist to define foods as good or bad, or healthy or not healthy;
- Food restrictions would pose major implementation challenges and increase program complexity and costs;
- Restrictions may not change the nature of participants’ food purchases;
- No evidence exists which indicates that food stamp benefits directly contribute to poor food choices and negative dietary outcomes, such as obesity.
USDA-“IMPLICATIONS OF RESTRICTING THE USE OF FOOD STAMP BENEFITS” http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/arra/FSPFoodRestrictions.pdf
SNAP and WIC programs are very different; not only because of who is eligible and what they can spend their benefits on, but even more importantly the requirements for eligible nutritious food items that retailers must stock. To participate in the SNAP and WIC programs retailers MUST meet federally mandated food stocking criteria. In West Virginia 1,892 retailers currently meet SNAP requirements and are offering 3 items in the 4 staple food groups. However, only 293 retailers in WV are currently certified and audited to meet WIC requirements. Stores that meet the higher WIC requirements for stocking nutritious food tend to be located in higher income areas, are not evenly dispersed throughout the state, and tend to be met by grocery stores, many of which are locally-owned (see map on reverse). Restricting use of SNAP benefits only to foods that meet WIC criteria could deepen the food desert problem in WV and undermine people’s power to make healthy choices.
Legislators should not … Restrict the use of SNAP benefits to meet ambiguous nutritional standards. It is not sound policy to improve our health and reduce food insecurity in WV.
Legislators should … support the USDA’s proposed rule to that requires retailers to expand the stock of nutritious retail items to seven or more varieties in the four staple food categories to receive SNAP certification. (RIN – 0584-AE27 – February 17, 2016)
Contact: Dr. Bradley Wilson – email@example.com
Don’t let ambiguity in SB 626 cloud efforts to improve healthy food access in WV.
Legislators, DHHR, the Department of Agriculture, retailers and consumers should know more about the intention of the required waiver and why the state needs SB 626.
- Why contradict the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services opposition to restrictive policies that decrease food security, deepen food deserts, and reduce the consumer’s right to food in our state? (See reverse)
- Provide evidence that restricting the eligible items that individual SNAP beneficiaries can purchase will not unfairly burden people who cannot access a sufficient variety of those items at existing retail stores in their vicinity?
Areas in green are the only places with access to various retailers that supply a variety of WIC eligible foods. Imposing restrictions can deepen food access problems for SNAP beneficiaries.
Alternately legislators may wish the bill to achieve greater access to healthy food by:
1) Increasing access to healthy food by requiring retailers to meet elevated nutrition standards proposed by USDA on February 17, 2016.
2) Coordinating a nutrition fund through the Heathly Food Financing Initiative that supports retailers to meet elevated SNAP and WIC requirements.
3) Help increasing funds to DHHR or Dept of Agriculture to meet the increased costs of certifying 1892 SNAP certified retailers and meet elevated nutritional standards.