Opinion- Farm bill negotiations continue this month with a Sept. 30 deadline quickly approaching, and the House and Senate versions appear stuck on work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
In short, the House version would add work requirements for SNAP users, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would cut about 1 million people from the program. The Senate version doesn’t require this.
The good news is that overall enrollment in SNAP has dropped to the lowest level since 2010, primarily due to the stronger economy.
Since most American consumers buy food in grocery stores, retailers have a lot at stake with regards to SNAP. One estimate shows they account for 7.5% of all retail food sales.
If 1 million consumers dropped off SNAP due to the work requirements, would that amount to lost sales to retail? A recent column on fooddive.com makes this argument.
But the opposite is more likely.
I talked with Chris Jones, the National Grocers Association’s vice president of government relations and counsel, who said NGA’s main stance with SNAP is to protect the public-private partnership many NGA members have, but it doesn’t advocate on funding or eligibility requirements.
He says NGA supports the House farm bill version, and the notion that a drop in SNAP users would translate to fewer retail sales is false.
“The House version tries to get people into the workforce,” he says. “We’ve found that those in the workforce are stronger customers, whether they’re on SNAP or off SNAP.”
Additionally, NGA strongly supports SNAP programs that encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, such as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI), which launched its “double up food bucks,” a few years ago, which matched produce purchases, effectively cutting those prices in half for consumers using the program.
“We’ve seen anecdotally that once people start purchasing produce, they change their habits and continue to buy it when (the benefits) go away,” Jones says.
People buy more and better food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, when they spend their hard-earned money, rather than government benefits.
Arguments like those in fooddive ignore the economic reality.
Retailers should continue to support government feeding programs, but everyone is better off when consumers have better jobs and more money to spend.
Greg Johnson is the Director of Media Development at Blue Book Services, Inc.