The National Grocers Association (NGA), the trade association representing the independent supermarket industry, has asked President Joe Biden to direct his administration to further policies that encourage unemployed Americans to look for work and offer resources to financially stressed businesses.
“Congress, governors and the administration must focus its efforts on fixing the broken unemployment insurance program to ensure the system does not discourage recipients from finding work,” wrote Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Arlington, Virginia-based NGA, in the letter. “While unemployed Americans certainly need a safety net as they try to get back on their feet, the benefits of combined unemployment and stimulus policies should not meet or exceed prior compensation, or businesses will be competing with the government for labor.”
Throughout the pandemic, grocers have grappled with increased labor needs to meet unprecedented levels of consumer demand and to implement labor-intensive public health protocols, observed Ferrara. “Given these challenges, the industry has responded by increasing employee pay, providing additional overtime opportunities and offering bonuses,” he wrote in the letter. “Despite these efforts, the industry is at a crisis point in its struggle to find qualified employees and keep grocery stores operational for hungry consumers.”
According to a recent NGA member survey, 100% of respondents said that they had encountered workforce and labor access difficulties, with problems growing considerably worse in the two months since Biden signed the American Rescue Plan.
The NGA Foundation’s online career center has ramped up efforts to address the industry’s recruiting needs, including recruitment ads, shared information on job fairs and hiring initiatives, and providing job seekers with such services as resume writing and interview tips.
“Although these efforts have led to some modest improvements, we need the support of our federal and state government officials to make solving this problem as urgent of a priority as we are,” noted Ferrara in the letter. “It is simply impossible for grocers who exist on razor-thin profit margins to compete for work when the government is paying workers to stay home.”
Along with the White House, the letter was also sent to Congress, the Department of Labor and governors, who can decline enhanced unemployment insurance funding.