New SNAP Criteria Ensures Healthier Food Options

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly named “food stamps,” provides food assistance for nearly 1.8 million low-income New Yorkers including families, the elderly and the disabled. This program provides New Yorkers with help to supplement the cost for food.

Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced final changes to increase access to healthier food choices for people in SNAP. The provisions in this rule require SNAP authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options. These changes ensure that retailers will not be able to just offer primarily snack food, like many delis and bodegas in the city.

With new regulations for SNAP eligibility for retailers, there must be a minimum of 84 required food items instead of the past 12. The staple products include vegetables and fruit dairy products, meat or poultry or fish, breads and cereals. The retailer will have to have seven varieties of each staple food to be a part of the program. However, if more than 50 percent of the gross income comes from foods cooked or heated on site, the retailer will lose its eligibility.

The new regulations try to balance the access to better food choices, as well as making it possible for people in underserved or rural areas to still have any sort of access. Food desserts are part of the country, most likely impoverished, that have a lack of wholesome produce or access to affordable nutritious food retailers.

The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) is a program established by the Obama administration that creates financial opportunities to create equal food opportunities in all communities. The program promises to equip groceries, farmers markets and cornerstones with beneficial food choices in underserved areas in need.

As SNAP is a crucial defense against hunger and feeds millions across the United States, it plays an important role in ensuring that the options are healthy and create better choices for those in need. Another added feature to SNAP was “health bucks,” which gives $2 coupons per every $5 spent at a farmer’s market.

Penelope Buenrostro, a 21-year-old New Yorker has been eligible for SNAP benefits since she was 18 and only sees positive outcomes from such changes. “It gives me the option of buying healthy food and not wasting my money on unhealthy food that is going to harm me along the way,” Buenrostro said. She hopes that the new changes will help form a healthier and more food conscious society in the long run.

She has the security of knowing that she will be able to get unprocessed wholesome foods with her benefits. However, she believes that bodegas will still be popular regardless if they accept SNAP or not, “I don’t believe that this would put bodegas out of business because there is always pocket money and New York is known for people who eat unhealthy… so we will always have more than a handful of those who will proceed with their choices whether it is healthy or not.”

However, not all agree. A Brooklynite receiving SNAP benefits for six months thinks that regardless of the new regulations, people will go for cheaper options to afford more overall bought food, “Bodega, store, what does it matter? I’m going for the cheap, easy to make food. Something filling and that’s not a hassle.”

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans discusses eating patterns of Americans and how crucial a shift toward nutrient dense food is. It emphasizes that every food and beverage we chose to consume has an effect on our bodies and by choosing a healthy eating pattern and appropriate calorie level will benefit in maintaining a healthy weight, supporting nutrient adequacy, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

Simple limitations of specific macronutrients can highly benefit an individual’s health, as the guidelines state: “The recommendation to limit intake of calories from saturated fats to less than 10 percent per day is a target based on evidence that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.”

To help make better, health-conscious food choices, the USDA also started the Choose My Plate program. The website helps individuals understand how to eat throughout the day and what nutritious and beneficial produce should be on the plate. It breaks down all the crucial food staples and explain what and in which quantity is good for you. Of course, physical activity is also highly recommended in addition to have an overall healthy life style. The program is now implemented at grocery stores and food retailers, offering tips and hacks on what to choose; for example on a shelf with canned food, the tip would offer to choose a low-sodium option.

With SNAP taking a much needed step forward with revising retailer eligibility, recipients of the program will have better outlets to a heathy life style amongst other free guidelines and programs offered to the general public.