May 18, 2022

Under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), set in the 1970s, customers are prohibited from purchasing hot or prepared foods at the grocery store. This creates the counterintuitive experience in which consumers can purchase food items like chicken that is raw or frozen, but not a rotisserie chicken.

Exceptions to the hot prepared food bank include:

  1. SNAP participants who are experiencing homelessness, living with a disability, or older adults can use their benefits at authorized restaurants, if they live in a community that has adopted the Restaurant Meals Program.[1]
  2. During times of disaster, states can request waivers allowing for the temporary purchases of hot prepared foods at authorized retailers.[2]

Much has changed in the foods available from grocers since the 1970s, with hot prepared foods a much more common option for American consumers. There are also other important reasons the ban should be removed.

  • Advocates with lived experience of poverty-related hunger consistently raise the hot prepared food prohibition as a key equity issue in SNAP access. This is especially true for individuals with disabilities who often face greater challenges in cooking meals from scratch, as well as those who lack access to cooking facilities entirely.
  • Moreover, the hot prepared foods ban reinforces challenges of “time poverty” that households with low incomes face, especially parents working multiple jobs. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) recently highlighted the time pressures that working mothers navigate and how ending the ban will help them to feed their families.

SNAP Plus Act of 2021 (H.R. 6338)

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a member of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition, Oversight, and Departmental Operations, has introduced legislation that would address this issue. With co-sponsors, Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), the SNAP Plus Act of 2021 (H.R. 6338) would permanently end the prohibition on hot prepared foods in SNAP.

As the cosponsoring members explained:

“It is clear to me—and to families I have heard from who are facing food insecurity in the 1st District and across the nation—that the exclusion of hot and prepared foods under current SNAP criteria is impractical, misguided, and unwise. The fact that you can use SNAP to purchase a frozen, breaded chicken, but not a hot rotisserie chicken or a salad from a grocery store salad bar, frankly, makes no sense. The SNAP PLUS Act will remedy the disparity in how hot and prepared foods are treated under SNAP.” – Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)

“SNAP is a first line of defense in protecting Americans. However, SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase hot and prepared foods. This arbitrary restriction burdens families and precludes options, like a rotisserie chicken, that provide healthy meal alternatives. All families deserve the right to make the best choices for their families—including the decision to purchase hot and prepared foods.” – Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)

“Easing arbitrary restrictions on hot and prepared foods for SNAP recipients will increase flexibility for beneficiaries and provide needy families across the country with greater access to an array of fresh and nutritional food options.” – Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.)

Take Action to Strengthen SNAP

Ask your members of Congress to cosponsor H.R. 6338, the SNAP Plus Act of 2021, by Rep. Rush to permanently end the ban on hot prepared foods in SNAP.