The committee considered a number of factors not directly related to the SNAP allocation that influence the type of foods purchased with SNAP benefits. These factors—incentives and restrictions on benefit usage, eligibility rules for retail outlets, and nutrition education—are examined here only in the context of how they might influence the feasibility of defining the adequacy of SNAP allotments consistent with the goals of increasing food security and access to a healthy diet. However, the committee recognizes that these factors are not directly linked to defining the adequacy of SNAP allotments. Further, in carrying out its charge, the committee was asked not to consider revisions to the TFP. As a consequence, the committee derived no conclusions or recommendations from the following discussion that would directly alter the TFP.
SNAP places few limits on the use of benefits. As discussed in Chapter 2, eligible foods include any food or food product for home consumption, as well as seeds and plants (FNS, 2012b), but SNAP benefits may not be used for the purchase of hot foods or any food sold for on-premises consumption. Nonfood items, such as tobacco products, pet foods, soaps, paper products, medicines and vitamins, household supplies, grooming items, and cosmetics, also are ineligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress has considered placing limits on the types of food that can be purchased (FNS, 2012b). However, it was concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome. In addition to Congress, cities and states have expressed interest in limiting the use of SNAP benefits to purchase certain foods and beverages (Barnhill, 2011). Because the criteria for SNAP purchases are federally regulated policies, however, any state that wishes to impose its own restrictions must apply to USDA for a waiver. To date, USDA has not approved any applications for waivers.
The discussion below illustrates the complexity of the issue of potentially restricting purchases made with program benefits. Potential impacts on participants’ dietary intake and nutritional status must be weighed carefully against concerns about program administrative complexity and program access, as well as participants’ freedom to make their own purchasing