Image

3:20 PM / Thursday December 1, 2022

9 Mar 2018

Food boxes, not stamps? Idea in Trump budget worries grocers

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
March 9, 2018 Category: Week In Review Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  In this Feb. 26, 2018 photo, Carl Lewis talks in his market in Rankin, Pa. About half of Lewis’ customers pay with benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, so the government’s proposal to replace the debit card-type program with a pre-assembled box of shelf-stable goods delivered to recipients worries him and other grocery operators in poor areas. “If half your business goes away, it’s going to hurt,” Lewis said.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

 

By Kristen de Groot and Gene J. Puskar

associated press

RANKIN, Pa.  — Finding fresh food in this tiny riverside community that was hit hard by the steel industry’s decline has always been a challenge. Then, seven years ago, Carl’s Cafe opened.

The grocery store, near new government housing, offers cooking classes and a source of fresh, healthy food. Proprietor Carl Lewis even has customers sign a pledge: If he provides fresh produce, they’ll buy it. Five such purchases, and they get their sixth free.

About half his customers pay with benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, so the government’s proposal to replace the debit card-type program with a pre-assembled box of shelf-stable goods delivered to recipients worries him and other grocery operators in poor areas about their patrons’ nutrition, and their own bottom line.

“If half of your business goes away, it’s going to hurt,” Lewis said, noting that if SNAP spending benefits are taken away, so will recipients’ ability to participate in programs at his store.

“I see kids educating parents on fresh food choices,” he said. “To see them reach for an apple before they reach for a Snickers bar, it’s fantastic. But if people are too worried about where their next meal is coming from, it’s going to be hard to teach them how to cook an eggplant.”

The idea called “America’s Harvest Box” was floated in February in the Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal, tucked inside a plan to slash SNAP by roughly $213 billion, or 30 percent, over the next 10 years. Households that receive more than $90 in SNAP benefits each month — roughly 81 percent of households in the program, or about 16.4 million — would be affected.

The plan immediately raised concerns, and details were sparse.

Grocery store trade associations, as well as nonprofits like The Food Trust, argue that removing food stamp recipients’ ability to buy their own provisions could undermine recent successes in eliminating “food deserts.”

“This notion that they need to be told what to buy is not borne out the by the data,” said Alex Baloga, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association. “We want to provide healthy, affordable products to everybody, and we want to give customers a choice to take these dollars and make the best decision for their families.”

“We have a hard time delivering mail in this country. How would we ever deliver these boxes?” — Shaker Ehmedi, Philadelphia grocery store manager

Cache Flanagan, a shopper at Carl’s Cafe who has two children ages 6 years and 10 months, wondered: “What will be in it? What about food allergies? Do we get options to pick from? Whatever they decide to put in that Harvest Box isn’t going to be fresh.”

Shaker Ehmedi, who manages a Cousin’s Supermarket location in Philadelphia, observed: “We have a hard time delivering mail in this country. How would we ever deliver these boxes?”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Feb. 22 acknowledged the idea took congressional members by surprise but said his staff consulted with experts.

Brandon Lipps, administrator for the Agriculture Department’s food and nutrition service, told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he wants retailers to play a role, and stressed that SNAP recipients would still receive 60 percent of their benefits in cash to spend at grocery stores.

Small stores in rural communities could also benefit, Lipps said, arguing that recipients who typically travel long distances to large supermarkets for groceries would get shelf-stable goods in their box and be able to shop at their local grocer for produce.

“The market is changing in how people get their food,” Lipps said. “I think we in the government have a duty to be changing with that market.”

The Harvest Box model would have the federal Agriculture Department procuring foods, Lipps acknowledged, but it would also rely heavily on states.

“We left the distribution to states, and there are a lot of models in that,” Lipps said. “That could include distribution through a grocery store, or a grocery store participating in distribution.”

A few miles down the Monongahela River from Rankin, Dylamatos Market in Pittsburgh is its neighborhood’s only source of fresh food, where about a quarter of the customers pay with SNAP, owner Dianne Shenk said. The program’s biggest benefit is choice, she said.

“These boxes will be full of shelf-stable items, the same things we’re being told not to eat,” she said.

Some grocers worried about their revenues simply fear communities could lose an institution.

“A lot of people appreciate the in-store experience down here,” said Todd Vowell, president of a company that operates supermarkets in Alabama and Mississippi bearing his family’s name. “It’s still a community gathering place where customers make friends and see old friends, and they would miss out on that if they aren’t coming to a grocery store.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News

Local

Message from Catherine Hicks Philadelphia Branch NAACP President and Publisher of the SUN on passing of former PA Senator T. Milton Street

November 29, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email The Philadelphia Branch NAACP and the Philadelphia SUN family, is saddened to hear...

Stateside

Senate runoff: Obama heading to Georgia

December 1, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email By BILL BARROW and JEFF AMY ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia voters have cast...

Week In Review

Biden admin to ask high court to take up student debt plan

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: Light illuminates part of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill...

Politics

Georgia runoff: Why one Senate seat is crucial for Democrats

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: This combination of photos shows, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaking to...

Health

How to shop for the right Medicare plan and avoid costly mistakes

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT Inflation is putting the squeeze on all Americans, but no one is...

Color Of Money

Top financial to-dos to end the year strong and prepare for 2023

November 24, 2022

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT  The holidays are a time full of good cheer, but not necessarily...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff