Last year, 45.4 million Americans—roughly one-seventh of the country’s population—relied on the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to feed themselves. And while more recently the US Department of Agriculture has made plans to improve the diets of those on food stamps, asking that stores double their perishable products in order to participate in the program, the proposal could have a detrimental effect on small businesses and low-income communities.
According to Fortune, the new regulations are being met with opposition in Congress and would force some 200,000 smaller bodegas, corner stores, and markets to stock up on between 54 and 168 new items. For large, national retailers like Walmart, the shift will be practically unnoticeable (most already meet the new requirements), but in communities where the neighborhood bodega is the primary resource for groceries, the ramifications could be serious.
If stores fail to meet the USDA’s new requirements, they could risk missing out on a piece of SNAP’s $74 billion taxpayer-funded budget.
“Unlike corporate grocery stores, or big-box stores like Walmart that literally have acres of space under one roof, our stores are each around 2,400 square feet in total,” Dirk Cooper, the president of Noon’s Food Stores, said in a letter to the USDA, obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
In addition to logistical issues like space and money, convenience store managers claim that customers already often choose to use their food stamps on junk food instead of fresh meat and produce.
Still, the proposed regulations are just the latest installment in a long battle over the future of food stamps. Earlier this week, Maine Governor Paul LePage threatened to take food stamps away from roughly 190,000 of his constituents.
“The Obama Administration goes to great lengths to police the menus of K-12 cafeterias but looks the other way as billions of taxpayer dollars finance a steady diet of Mars bars and Mountain Dew," LePage wrote this month.