In response tothe U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposed rule on revisions to food packages in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents the independent supermarket industry, has offered improvements to the packages in a letter sent to WIC Administration Chief Allison Post.
According to Washington, D.C.-based NGA, these improvements can help boost retailer participation as well as food access for WIC recipients. The organization supports many of the food package expansions proposed by the USDA, among them expanded product offerings, pack size flexibility, product substitutions and "up to" amounts, which NGA believes “will improve the shopping experience for customers and ensure that retailers are better able to meet their needs.”
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NGA did object to state-level stocking requirements as part of the proposed package expansion, however. “Over the years, NGA members have struggled and have been penalized for not meeting state-level stocking requirements. These requirements often lead to food waste and economic losses for stores,” wrote Stephanie Johnson, NGA’s VP of government relations, in the letter. “We suggest creating an essential foods package with reasonable stocking requirements and an optional foods package with foods that are encouraged and allowed to be sold but do not have stringent stocking requirements. This will allow our members to meet the needs of their communities while also reducing food waste and economic losses.”
Additionally, as its members continue to grapple with supply chain woes, NGA asked the USDA to consider emergency substitutions when finalizing the rule. “Retailers have experienced difficulties keeping WIC-approved foods and formula in stock after natural disasters, due to infrastructure and transportation issues, and during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to high demand,” noted Johnson. “This often leads to WIC participants walking away from the store without their prescribed products in hand. USDA should allow WIC vendors operating during severe supply shortages, disasters or public-health emergency areas to be provided flexibility by permitting substitution for certain WIC-authorized items that are unavailable immediately.”
Johnson emphasized that independent grocers are committed to supporting families in their communities that receive WIC benefits, and that NGA would work with USDA on revisions to the WIC food package.
USDA’s proposed rule, which is open for public comment from Feb. 23 to May 24, aims “to create a more simple, convenient and equitable WIC shopping experience as part of a wider effort to modernize the WIC program.”