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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Analysis of Program Administration and Food Law Definitions

Pomeranz JL and Chriqui JF. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2015. [E-pub ahead of print]

Under the current version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), participants can purchase virtually any food or beverage (collectively, food). Research indicates that SNAP recipients may have worse dietary quality than income-eligible nonparticipants. Policymakers have urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to pilot SNAP purchasing restrictions intended to support a healthier diet, and state legislators have proposed similar bills. The USDA rejected these invitations, stating that it would be administratively and logistically difficult to differentiate among products, amid other concerns. However, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) do just that. Further, state governments define and differentiate among foods and beverages for tax purposes. This paper reviews several factors intended to inform future policy decisions: the science indicating that SNAP recipients have poorer diet quality than income-eligible nonparticipants; the public’s support for revising the SNAP program; federal, state, and city legislators’ formal proposals to amend SNAP based on nutrition criteria and the USDA’s public position in opposition to these proposals; state bills to amend eligible foods purchasable with SNAP benefits; state retail food tax laws; and the retail administration and program requirements for both WIC and SNAP. The paper finds that the government has a clear ability to align SNAP benefits with nutrition science and operationalize this into law.

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