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Consumers Deserve Hassle-Free Healthy Benefits At All Grocery Stores

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Last updated on October 3rd, 2023 at 04:58 pm

Imagine for a moment seeing some neighbors shopping for groceries. Their cart is filled with all the products they need to prepare meals for their family during the coming week.

Up at the check stand, they unload their cart and the checker rings them up. Then they present a payment card that promised to cover their food purchases, but they’re told it’s not accepted at this store.

Finding themselves unable to pay, they’re forced to abandon their cart and leave the store, embarrassed and uncertain as to how they’ll feed their family.

Scenarios such as this actually are playing out at independent community grocers across the country for folks attempting to pay for their groceries with healthy benefit cards.

Funded by some insurance companies, healthy benefit cards were designed so customers – in particular, older adults, at-risk populations and those with chronic diseases – can fill up their carts at the grocery store with fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices.

These cards look like credit cards – some even carry a company logo – but they don’t work that way. They’re only accepted by a few large grocery store chains.

So, millions of Americans who rely on independent grocers – often the only grocery stores in rural and urban low-income areas – are locked out of using this benefit. These are the folks who need it the most.

And some independent grocers that support older adult communities — the primary participants in these programs — have experienced a double-digit drop in customers as they discover the limitations of these benefit cards that have cut them off from their traditional shopping option.

Hearing from retailers about this, NGA took the lead on the issue earlier this year. In February, NGA asked the White House to build upon the goals from the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health to solve this problem. NGA also met with several members of Congress and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), urging them to provide oversight on Medicare Advantage plans.

To apply additional pressure, NGA in May issued an open letter, signed by nearly 1,700 independent grocers, to key healthy benefit card stakeholders, urging that the cards be accepted by a broader variety of retailers.

In June, NGA hosted a meeting with POS system providers and payment networks to discuss solutions for providing access to healthy benefit cards in high-need communities being served by independent grocers.

Because of input from the June stakeholder meeting, NGA launched an online toolkit to offer resources to help grocers implement the technology required to accept healthy benefit cards, as well as to be a comprehensive ongoing resource for updates about this program.

This toolkit supports independent community grocers with the knowledge they need to navigate this emerging field as well as equip retailers with insights into key stakeholders in this evolving sector when initiating these payments in their stores.

The exclusion of independent grocers from healthy benefit programs widens the uneven playing field with dominant food retailers, and it means many customers are essentially prohibited from spending money in their communities. The last thing anyone should be told is where they can and cannot shop for groceries.

Independent grocers – who play a vital role in fulfilling their communities’ nutritional needs and, in many regions, are the only convenient source of fresh food and other necessities – must have every tool at their disposal to ensure those most in need can feed themselves and their families.

Read more news from The Shelby Report’s guest contributors.

About the author

Greg Ferrara

President and CEO of NGA

Greg Ferrara is the President and CEO of NGA. The National Grocers Association is the trade association representing the U.S. independent community supermarket industry. NGA members include retail and wholesale grocers located in every congressional district across the country, as well as state grocers’ associations, manufacturers and service suppliers.

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