The United States is poised to elect a president at a time in the nation’s history when Americans seem more divided, more anxious, more uncertain than ever about their future. A pandemic has gripped the country for more than half the year, setting a robust economy on its ear, and renewed demands for social justice have brought uneasiness and unrest nationwide.
Grocery retailers have striven to bring stability to daily life, and independent supermarket operators are uniquely equipped to monitor the pulse of their communities. Driving an essential industry in a time of crisis, associates continue to work tirelessly to deliver on basic human needs.
Regardless of politics and who is chosen to lead the nation beyond next Jan. 20, independent grocers have a specific list of priorities for doing business in the foreseeable future, among them rewarding essential front-line workers, limiting liability exposure of essential businesses and expanding nutritional access for hungry Americans.
The independent supermarket industry continues to experience ongoing and unexpected challenges as it works unceasingly to feed the American public. To help grocers continue to meet these challenges, NGA urges quick and decisive action on several key issues that, at this writing, were stalled in a deadlocked Congress.
Tax relief: The bipartisan Ag Chain Act (H.R. 6841) and FRNT Line Act (S. 4213) provide an exclusion from gross income taxes and temporary payroll-tax relief to essential food and agriculture workers. The industry’s ability to meet customers’ needs wouldn’t 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.
Liability protection: The Safe to Work Act (S. 4317) would help ensure that grocers are protected if they made their best efforts to comply with federal, state and local guidance. Despite being designated essential businesses, grocers are under threat of frivolous litigation simply for remaining open during the pandemic. Congress must protect essential businesses from unnecessary liability exposure, provided these businesses took reasonable steps to comply with the guidance from the CDC or other health authorities.
Incentive to work: Further, Congress should consider modifying the unemployment insurance (UI) program by adding a cap on total unemployment benefits at a certain percentage of the applicant’s previous compensation level, as an alternative to the current policy of offering additional benefits that have proved to be a disincentive to continuing or returning to work.
Better SNAP access: To help grocers better serve consumers, NGA urges expanding access to the SNAP online purchasing program by providing grocers with technical assistance to help in implementing an online program and deferring expensive startup costs for retailers that lack the capacity and resources necessary to get online. Additionally, Congress should consider emergency funding to help shore up the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, formerly known as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, a popular initiative that increases the purchasing power of SNAP customers when they buy healthy fruits and vegetables.
CBD regulation: To help retailers fulfill the growing demand for cannabidiol (CBD) products, NGA actively supports the regulation of CBD as a dietary supplement. Removal of CBD and hemp-derived products from the Controlled Substances Act has led to the quick growth in business and consumer interest, and CBD products have flooded the marketplace in a variety of forms, including tinctures, pills, lotions and oils. Many independent food retailers have responded to this demand and are experiencing growing sales, but others are deterred because of the lack of legal clarity surrounding CBD products. NGA supports commonsense FDA regulation of CBD products. Classifying CBD as a dietary supplement will ensure product safety for consumers while providing grocers with much-needed regulatory certainty.
Support from our lawmakers on these key issues will allow independent grocery operators to better fulfill their mission as essential businesses in feeding their communities, whether in times of crisis or normalcy.