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Alabama Independent Testifies Before Congress On SNAP Pilot

SNAP testimony Jimmy Wright
Jimmy Wright

Jimmy Wright, single-store operator of Wright’s Market in Opelika, Alabama, testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee in a hearing, “Nutrition Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill,” on Sept. 14.

Wright testified on behalf of the National Grocers Association (NGA), the trade association representing the independent supermarket industry, on issues retailers face while administering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Wright’s Market is a family-owned business that originally opened as a 2,100-s.f. convenience store in 1973. Wright worked in the store as a high school student and bought it from its previous owner in 1997. The store was renamed Wright’s Market in 2003 and has since grown to 22,000-s.f. full-service supermarket.

During the hearing, Wright outlined how the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot program is expected to help the supermarket offer a full variety of fresh meat and produce in communities that typically lack access due to supply chain issues. The pilot program was mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill to test the feasibility and implications of allowing food retailers to accept SNAP benefits through online transactions.

“For small businesses—like Wright’s Market—to successfully innovate in food retail, we need the government to keep up the pace with our ambitions. When USDA transitioned from paper vouchers to EBT cards, our SNAP customers benefited and our store achieved new efficiencies. Implementing this pilot will be an important step in the right direction much like the EBT transition,” he said.

In his written comments, Wright noted that “when the pilot is officially launched, I am excited for the prospect of using our online program to address the issue of food access and food insecurity in the rural areas of East Alabama. My plan is to use online technology to afford rural customers the ability to order online and have full access to our store’s entire inventory of over 12,000 items, including a full variety of fresh meat and produce.”

In addition to outlining the importance of getting the pilot program under way, Wright highlighted the need for lawmakers to create a more streamlined and efficient SNAP license application program for existing retailers in good standing, while also giving extra attention to stores opening in food deserts.

 

Reject new regulatory burdens, he urged

The grocer also urged members of the committee to reject any proposal that would add new regulatory burdens on retailers that accept SNAP, such as restricting what foods participants can purchase with their benefit.

“The added regulatory burden and costs—coupled with the inevitable stigma our SNAP customers would face—would dramatically increase retailers’ cost of accepting SNAP,” said Wright. “Instead, Congress should focus on supporting programs that educate participants on how to make healthier choices and provide incentives to purchase fruits and vegetables, which have been very successful thus far.”

Peter J. Larkin, president and CEO of NGA, said, “SNAP plays an important role in providing a safety net to those in need, including families with children, the elderly and the disabled. America’s independent supermarket operators have long partnered with USDA, Congress and industry partners to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the program.”

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