NGA Lays Out Top COVID-19 Priorities to Congress
The National Grocers Association (NGA), the trade organization representing the independent supermarket industry, has sent a letter to congressional leaders enumerating the top priorities of independent grocers in the forthcoming coronavirus relief economic stimulus package: rewarding front-line grocery workers, limiting the liability exposure of essential businesses, and expanding online SNAP access.
“The independent supermarket industry continues to experience ongoing and unexpected challenges as it works tirelessly to feed the American public,” noted Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Arlington, Virginia-based NGA, in the July 15 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The group went on to call for action on three key pieces of legislation:
- The AG CHAIN Act (H.R. 6841), a bill that provides an exclusion from gross income taxes and temporary payroll tax relief to essential food and agriculture workers.
- The Get America Back to Work Act (H.R. 7528), which would help ensure grocers are protected if they made their best efforts to comply with federal, state and local guidance.
- Inclusion in the relief package of the Expanding SNAP Option Acts (H.R. 7535/S. 4202) to expand consumer access to online SNAP by giving grocers technical assistance to help implement the program and deferring expensive startup costs for retailers without the capacity and resources needed to get online.
Further, NGA encouraged Congress to consider modifying the unemployment insurance (UI) program if additional benefits are extended beyond the July 31 expiration. According to the organization, a cap on total unemployment benefits at a certain percentage of the applicant’s previous compensation level should be considered as an alternative to the current policy of offering additional benefits, which NGA said “have shown to be a disincentive to continuing or returning to work.”
In support of the AG CHAIN Act, Ferrara wrote: “The industry’s ability to meet our customers’ needs would not be possible without the dedicated and talented front-line workers who show up to work every day to move product and keep store shelves stocked. While most grocers have increased pay and provided bonuses to their employees, the federal government should also recognize these individuals’ sacrifices.”
Despite the fact that food retailers have been designated as critical infrastructure, he observed that “grocers are under threat of frivolous litigation simply for remaining open during the pandemic. NGA is requesting that Congress protect essential infrastructure business from unnecessary liability exposure, provided these businesses took reasonable steps to comply with the guidance from the CDC or other health authorities.”
As well as making the Online SNAP program more accessible for independent grocers, NGA also requested that Congress consider emergency funding to aid the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, which boosts the purchasing power of SNAP customers when they buy healthy fruits and vegetables.