SNAP Hot Foods

Last Updated: March 25, 2022

The Issue

How Americans buy, prepare and consume food has evolved over time. Most Americans regularly purchase hot, prepared meals from stores to feed their families. Yet, the 22 million families who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can only purchase foods for take-home preparation and consumption or cold prepared foods. When the program was in its early stages nearly 50 years ago, Americans were preparing more meals from scratch, so Congress restricted the purchase of hot foods with SNAP dollars. Since that time, American shopping and eating habits have shifted across all socioeconomic classes.

Today, most Americans relish the flexibility to purchase hot meals – such as a rotisserie chicken, soup, or a hot sandwich – because Americans want convenience and faster meal-preparation as they juggle multiple responsibilities. Low-income Americans who depend on SNAP need that type of flexibility as well. In fact, of the more than 42 million SNAP participants, approximately 70 percent are children, elderly or have disabilities. Being able to purchase hot foods will give these individuals more choices when shopping for food. Removing the hot foods restriction is a commonsense update to modernize the program.

The SNAP program works well when it allows hot food sales during emergencies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture grants waivers for hot foods to be purchased during natural disasters, such as hurricanes. These waivers have been successful in giving needed flexibility to SNAP families during times of crisis. There is no reason not to provide the same flexibility and convenience to SNAP families on every other day of the year.

Allowing hot food purchases will also simplify administration of the program for stores that already accept SNAP benefits. Today, a working mom can use SNAP benefits to buy a cold sandwich, but if the bread is toasted or the sandwich is put in a panini press, she can’t buy the same sandwich. That is confusing and hard for stores to follow. This change, however, would not allow restaurants to enter the SNAP program. The same store eligibility requirements would apply under this new legislation as apply today.

Retail Impact

Convenience stores play a vital role in SNAP by providing essential access to nutrition for low income Americans, particularly those in rural and urban America. In fact, 93% of Americans live within 10 minutes of one of our locations, and 86% of rural Americans live within 10 minutes. Convenience stores are often the only establishments easily accessible by walking or public transportation, or the only food retail locations open for business with extended or 24-hour service.

NACS Position

Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL), Grace Meng (D-NY) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced bipartisan legislation, the SNAP PLUS Act, that would remove the SNAP hot foods restriction, giving SNAP customers the ability to buy hot foods from SNAP eligible retail stores when needed. NACS supports this legislation because it gives low-income Americans commonsense flexibility when it comes to feeding themselves and their families and will help stores more easily comply with program requirements.