SNAP Hot Foods

Last Updated: May 19, 2024

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 SNAP 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. However, American shopping and eating habits have shifted since that time 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 consumers 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% 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 simplify administration of the program for stores that already accept SNAP benefits. Today, a working mom can use her 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 with SNAP. This is confusing and hard for stores to follow. Removing the hot foods restriction would not expand SNAP to allow restaurants to enter the program. The same store eligibility requirements would still apply as it does 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

The Hot Foods Act (H.R. 3519) was introduced in the House with bipartisan support by Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Andrew Garbarino (R-NY) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) in the House. Its companion bill in the Senate (S. 2258) was introduced by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Peter Welch (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and Ben Cardin (D-MD). The Hot Foods Act would remove the hot food restriction for SNAP authorized retail stores. The 2023 Farm Bill, which authorizes SNAP, presents a key opportunity to modernize SNAP and strengthen equitable access through hot foods. 

NACS strongly supports the Hot Foods Act and removing the SNAP hot foods restriction in the upcoming Farm Bill, because it would grant low-income Americans commonsense flexibility when it comes to feeding themselves and their families and will help stores more easily comply with program requirements.