The National Grocers Association (NGA), the trade association representing the independent supermarket industry, is pleased by enhancements to national nutrition programs included in the American Rescue Plan recently signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The Washington, D.C.-based trade group was particularly excited by the $25 million provided to improve Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) online purchasing technology, update the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system and support SNAP mobile payment tech.
“Adoption of online grocery shopping continues to accelerate, mainly due to the pandemic,” noted Molly Pfaffenroth, NGA’s senior director of government relations. “Making it easier for independent community grocers to offer this essential service to consumers who need it most ensures that SNAP recipients can redeem their benefits online, especially in areas where the small local grocery store may be the only convenient shopping option. NGA commends the Biden administration as well as the members of Congress who recognized this crucial need to provide technical assistance for retailers working through the SNAP online purchasing application and testing process.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the association has been emphasizing to Congress and the White House the critical need for technical assistance for small and midsize independent grocers that wish to take part in SNAP online purchasing, but find the program technically challenging to set up. The Consolidated Appropriations Act signed into law in December 2019, provided $5 million for SNAP online purchasing, and the $25 million from the American Rescue Plan will further enable independents to participate in the program, according to NGA. The organization plans to offer its members an SNAP Online Toolkit outlining the steps that retailers can take to accept EBT payments online.
The American Rescue Plan also offers the following nutrition provisions:
- Further SNAP funding: Continues the 15% increase in SNAP benefits through Sept. 30, 2021, that was earlier set to expire in June, and provides states with additional administrative funds to run the program.
- Nutrition assistance programs: More funding to support the continued temporary 15% increase in benefits. Provides $1 billion to Puerto Rico and American Samoa for nutrition assistance, of which $30 million is for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island.
- WIC funding: Gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority and funding to temporarily raise the value of the Cash Value Voucher in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to $35 per month for women and children for a four-month period during the pandemic.
- WIC program modernization: Provides $390 million for outreach, innovation and program modernization efforts to boost participation and benefit redemption in WIC.
- Pandemic EBT program: Enables the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program to be implemented for any school year in which the COVID-19 public-health emergency designation is in effect, and for P-EBT benefits to be extended to the summer.
NGA has also thrown its support behind the Expanding SNAP Options Act, which would require the Secretary of Agriculture to implement online SNAP purchasing in all states; provide $25 million to develop and maintain a secure, easy-to-use online and app-based portal for EBT redemption to support smaller retailers’ online SNAP purchasing programs; and provide $75 million to create a USDA Technical Assistance Center to facilitate online purchasing and use of the portal for smaller retailers, direct-to-consumer farmers and farmers’ markets, and to disseminate public information about which local vendors take part in SNAP online purchasing.