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Several retailers from the food industry testified before the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee in a “The Past, Present and Future of SNAP: The Retailer Perspective” hearing, which examined issues all food retailers, large and small, face in administering the USDA SNAP benefits.
According to FMI (Food Marketing Institute) data, 9 percent of all grocery sales are SNAP.
Kathy Hanna, The Kroger Co.'s senior director, enterprise payments, represented FMI, and shared her experience of witnessing the evolution of the program from paper coupons to a patchwork regional system with differing administrative requirements to a nationwide electronic system with improved efficiencies and reduced opportunity for fraud. Kroger’s POS system prohibits the purchase on non-allowable items when a customer uses the SNAP EBT card and it is beneficial that the requirements and allowances are now nationwide, Hanna testified.
“Not only is this uniformity essential on our programming side, it is key for our shoppers who rely on SNAP to have the same set of rules regardless of where they redeem their benefits,” she added. The SNAP EBT has been a success for both retailer efficiencies as well as consistency and reliability for consumers that rely on the benefit.
Jimmy Wright, owner of Wright’s Market in Opelika, Ala., also testified on behalf of the National Grocers Association. As an owner of a single, full-service supermarket, he advocated for a more efficient and streamlined SNAP application process, especially for retailers that want to open in food deserts.
In his testimony, Wright encouraged the USDA to consider adopting an expedited process for retailers in such markets. “These business owners are working against many obstacles in order to open supermarkets in these underserviced areas,” he noted.
Wright also suggested improvements could be made for retailers who have already gone through the application process when they open additional locations. “It seems inefficient to force these retailers who are in good standing to go through the same application process as those stores that are coming to the program for the first time,” he said.
Wright and Hanna were joined by Doug Beech, counsel for Casey’s General Stores, Ankeny, Iowa and Carl Martincich, VP of HR and risk management for Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores based in Oklahoma City. The hearing is part of a series of hearing held by the House Agriculture Committee to review the current SNAP program.
“As Congress looks toward the next farm bill, we hope the Committee will consider these successes and efficiencies as they debate changes to the program,” Hanna concluded. “We stand ready to work with the Committee to find additional improvements and future technology solutions to ensure we can meet all of our customers’ needs.”