FMI, NGA Tout SNAP Successes in Senate Hearing

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FMI, NGA Tout SNAP Successes in Senate Hearing

By Jenny McTaggart - 09/14/2017

Representatives from the Food Marketing Institute and the National Grocers Association spoke Thursday in support of nutrition programs during a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee hearing held to garner viewpoints for the 2018 Farm Bill. Part of their testimony addressed the success of SNAP during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In a letter to committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), FMI offered several key points:

“As private sector partners with the federal government serving as points of redemption for customers receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the integrity, efficiency and accessibility of SNAP are top priorities for FMI and our participating retail members.

“Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused great destruction across the south over the past few weeks. Families have lost their homes, FMI members have had stores damaged, infrastructure has been washed away and most sadly, lives have been lost. Through this devastation and great loss, we have also seen inspiring stories of hope and support from across the country and incredible acts of charity and kindness. Many of our members have been on the front lines not only ensuring their employees’ safety but quickly bringing stores back online and delivering much needed lifesaving resources (food, water, batteries, ice) to some of the hardest hit communities.

“FMI would also like to emphasize how crucial the portability of SNAP has been during the past several weeks. Millions of Americans either evacuated or were displaced by these events. Regardless of which state they were living in, SNAP beneficiaries have been able to purchase foods with their benefits seamlessly and the grocery industry has been able to accept benefits from out of state without challenges.

“This success is an outcome of congressional action 16 years ago that allowed Texas and Florida SNAP participants to seek safety in neighboring states yet continue to use their benefits to feed their families. The EBT Interoperability and Portability Act (PL 106-171), signed into law in 2000, ensures that EBT transactions operated consistently from state to state.”

Retailer's Point of View

Also at the hearing, Jimmy Wright, a single-store operator of Opelika, Ala.-based Wright’s Market, testified on behalf of NGA on issues retailers face while administering SNAP benefits.

Wright outlined how the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot program is expected to help the supermarket offer a full variety of fresh meat and produce in communities that typically lack access due to supply chain issues. The pilot program was mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill to test the feasibility and implications of allowing food retailers to accept SNAP benefits through online transactions.

“For small businesses – like Wright’s Market – to successfully innovate in food retail, we need the government to keep up the pace with our ambitions. When USDA transitioned from paper vouchers to EBT cards, our SNAP customers benefited and our store achieved new efficiencies. Implementing this pilot will be an important step in the right direction much like the EBT transition,” he said.

In addition to outlining the importance of kicking off the pilot program, Wright highlighted the need for lawmakers to create a more streamlined and efficient SNAP license application program for existing retailers in good standing, while also giving extra attention to stores opening in food deserts.

Wright also urged members of the committee to reject any proposal that would add new regulatory burdens on retailers that accept SNAP, such as restricting what foods participants can purchase with their benefit. “The added regulatory burden and costs – coupled with the inevitable stigma our SNAP customers would face – would dramatically increase retailers' cost of accepting SNAP,” said Wright. “Instead, Congress should focus on supporting programs that educate participants on how to make healthier choices and provide incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables, which have been very successful thus far.”