Work on a Farm Bill reauthorization is under way, and as this column goes to press, Washington observers anticipate an uptick in activity toward the food and ag package that holds significant impact for independent grocers, especially those in historically underserved parts of the country.
Earlier this year, NGA outlined its 2023 Farm Bill priorities to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, the entities driving this evolving legislation.
As Stephanie Johnson, NGA’s VP of government relations, aptly noted, “Independent community grocers are a linchpin for communities across the country by providing nourishing food to millions of Americans at an affordable price. Legislation must consider the critical role independent grocers play across America so they can continue expanding food access and supporting local economies.”
NGA’s team is working with lawmakers to ensure that the new Farm Bill reflects changes and technology in the grocery marketplace and addresses the needs of the communities that independent community grocers serve, looking to build on the inroads we have made since the previous Farm Bill five years ago.
To be sure, there are many challenges for the legislation as it advances though a divided Congress, with a House of Representatives controlled by a slim Republican majority. Namely, efforts to boost nutrition programs generally supported by Democrats face erosion by GOP members, including some who favor work requirements for SNAP participants.
Partisan differences notwithstanding, SNAP is a fundamental safety net program for millions of Americans and has largely been a success due to the private-public partnership it shares with supermarket operators to improve access to food and encourage healthy eating behavior by providing incentives rather than restrictive mandates. These themes from previous Farm Bills should carry over to the new legislation.
To that end, NGA favors maintaining SNAP Choice, which offers flexibility to both retailer and participants, and ensures families can choose foods appropriate for their unique situation.
After successful piloting, NGA supports making SNAP online a permanent feature of the program and, to ensure it continues to operate as intended, providing technical support for retailers to properly implement and expand the service.
That expansion should come with maintaining the program under its current structure. Changes to SNAP that have been suggested in recent years, such as block granting or bulk food distribution boxes, threaten the viability of grocery stores in communities where food access is most vulnerable.
Further, NGA supports expanding and streamlining the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, the nutrition incentive program that has successfully boosted access to and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
And finally, grocery retailers should not be subject to processing fees on EBT transactions or an EBT tax. With credit card transaction fees already among grocery retailers’ most onerous operating costs, further burdensome expenses would threaten their ability to serve communities most in need.
As negotiation toward a new Farm Bill continues, grocers need lawmakers to understand that its impact stretches far beyond the fruited plain, into the grocery aisles and the communities they serve and the other businesses and organizations they support, driving growth and well-being of both rural and urban areas throughout the United States.