What retailers should know about the debate over SNAP in the 2023 Farm Bill

Work requirements, online purchasing, and product choices are all up for discussion.
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· 5 min read

A new Farm Bill is upon us, and ICYMI, it has major implications for the retail industry. About 80% of the bill’s funds will go toward nutrition programs, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), determining who can receive government assistance to buy groceries and how much $$ they can spend. It’s historically been a much-debated topic, so you can bet there won’t be any snap decisions about SNAP.

SNAP is expected to reach 43.5 million participants per month this year, up from 42.3 million in 2022, who receive $230 per month on average.

Since nutrition accounts for so much $$, it’s often a section of the Farm Bill evaluated for possible cuts—and typically a partisan issue, Gina Plata-Nino, deputy director of SNAP at nonprofit Food Research & Advocacy Center (FRAC), told Retail Brew. This year is particularly tricky, because a lot has changed since the 2018 Farm Bill.

  • The pandemic led to emergency allotments, but those extra benefits expire after this month, cutting $82 a month on average.
  • In 2021, the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), the baseline for deciding SNAP benefits’ value, was re-evaluated for the first time since 1975, resulting in benefits being bumped up 21% to $1.19 per person per day (or $0.40 per person per meal).

“2018: It’s not like 2023. Our economy’s a little bit different. Inflation has gone up, expenses have gone up,” Plata-Nino noted. “These are opportunities to see how best [to] strengthen the SNAP program, because it does directly impact the local economy.”

With SNAP benefits accounting for 12.3% of total at-home US grocery retail sales last year, program changes could have a direct effect on grocery stores’ business.

All access: The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry held a Farm Bill hearing on February 16, led by Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services at the USDA, to discuss nutrition issues in the legislation.

Dean’s testimony noted that SNAP supports retailers, local food distributors, and farmers, and included goals to expand SNAP online shopping, which The National Grocers Association (NGA), representing independent grocers and distributors, also said it supports. The NGA also identified a need to help independent retailers onboard online payment processing capabilities, which can be technically and financially challenging.

  • According to Dean’s testimony, 175+ retailers across thousands of stores offer SNAP online purchasing, and nearly 4 million SNAP households shopped online in November 2022, up from 35,000 in March 2020. She also noted that the USDA will announce a SNAP Mobile Payments Pilot in five states in the coming weeks.

Plata-Nino said FRAC “always pushes benefit adequacy” in the Farm Bill. She pointed to a bill introduced by Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C.,) that would use the Low-Cost Food Plan to determine SNAP maximum benefit allotment, rather than the TFP (the lowest of four food plans the USDA develops), which Plata-Nino said “unrealistically assumes food availability and affordability.”

  • A family of four would receive a maximum of $224.10 per week using TFP, but $240 using the Low-Cost Food Plan, per the USDA’s December 2022 reports on the plans.

Cut it out: The latest Congressional Budget Office forecast increased its 2023–2032 estimate for SNAP by $93 billion (8%) from May 2022, due to projected higher enrollment and further required evaluations of the TFP, bringing it to $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Many Republican senators, including Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern over the budget, pushing for cuts and stricter requirements.

  • Some, like Grassley, weren’t happy about the TFP evaluation process, which the US Government Accountability Office determined could’ve used “better planning and accountability.”

Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the committee, said “it’s time for USDA to get serious about enforcing work requirements,” noting that “states should no longer be allowed to game the system.”

  • Five Republican representatives sent a letter to President Biden this month stating work requirements for able-bodied adults “promote community engagement and a transition to self-sufficiency.”
  • In contrast, Plata-Nino said FRAC supports getting rid of work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents, which she called “draconian.” Feeding America is also pushing to expand employment and training programs without increasing work requirements.
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And while a recent Iowa bill proposed blocking SNAP recipients from buying staples like white bread, cheese slices, and fresh meat, the NGA said it supports the Farm Bill maintaining participants’ product choice, noting it would otherwise discourage retailer participation and force grocery store cashiers to “become the food police.”

Plata-Nino argued that reducing product choice, along with other proposed cuts to SNAP, would ultimately have a negative impact on the local economy.

“It’s not money; it’s funds that directly go into grocery stores, that go into supermarkets, and it goes into farmers,” she said. “People don’t get to keep that; it just helps them eat.”

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Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.