Mike Beal, chief operating officer of Kansas City, Kansas-based Balls Food Stores, testified June 8 in support of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, on behalf of the National Grocers Association, the trade association representing the independent supermarket industry.
Beal affirmed the importance of SNAP to the independent grocery sector in his testimony to U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), who chairs the Nutrition, Oversight and Department Operations Subcommittee; ranking member U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE); and other committee members.
In 2020, SNAP was responsible for nearly 200,000 U.S. grocery industry jobs earning wages totaling more than $6.7 billion.
Describing SNAP as “a shining example of a public-private partnership,” Beal testified that the program is critical to the health of local communities.
“If it were not for SNAP, many grocery stores would simply not exist in areas that need them most,” Beal told the committee. “Numerous rural areas throughout the country are home to high concentrations of SNAP participants who rely on local grocery stores to access healthy and affordable foods. In many small towns, the local independent grocer is the only store in town and provides an anchor to the community.”
An Economic Research Service report release last November found that SNAP generated larger relative impacts in the rural economy than in the urban economy. For every dollar spent locally in the SNAP program, $1.80 in positive economic benefit is realized. This helps keep local economies stronger and recover more quickly from economic downturns and supports local jobs.
NGA strongly supports legislative proposals to improve online SNAP programs, in particular efforts to require the Secretary of Agriculture to implement online SNAP purchasing in all states, as well as providing resources to develop and maintain a secure, easy-to-use online and app-based portal for EBT redemption to support smaller retailers in offering products for online SNAP purchasing.
“Independent grocers wish to offer this service to their customers, and many have applied to FNS to participate. However, barriers to participation include technical challenges, financial constraints to launch and continuously operate the program, and a lengthy application and approval process,” Beal testified.
Further, NGA supports increasing incentives for the use of SNAP benefits for the purchase of a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, rather than imposing restrictions on choice.
“The dietary habits of SNAP and non-SNAP customers have been shown to be nearly identical by USDA. Consequently, we do not believe that restricting choice will advance important public health goals,” Beal testified. “Additionally, SNAP choice restrictions would require the federal government to identify, evaluate and track the nutritional profile of the thousands of foods that are available in today’s grocery stores, resulting in a complicated ‘food code.’”
NGA applauded USDA’s announcement to permanently increase monthly SNAP benefits by 27 percent beginning Oct. 1, 2021, the first major change since 1975. Further, NGA supports the prohibition on EBT processing fees and urges extension of the ban as a way of restoring competition to the contracting process.
“We want to work to maintain our strong existing public-private partnership with the SNAP program and continue to serve our rural and urban customers. We hope to improve online purchasing and do as much as possible to provide incentives for consumers to make better purchasing decisions. We want to maintain benefit levels as much as possible. And we would like to provide responsible control of operational fees in order to make sure even more retailers are able to provide services,” Beal concluded.
Balls Food Stores is a third-generation, family-owned company, started by Mollie and Sidney Ball in 1923, that currently operates 27 retail grocery stores in the greater Kansas City (Kansas and Missouri) metropolitan area, primarily under the Price Chopper and Hen House banners.
Read the complete text of Beal’s testimony here.