Viewpoints

Putting Out Fires While Legislators Fiddle

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The food-retailing industry stepped in to fill some gaps in the system this month while Democrats and Republicans played a game of chicken with the government’s funding.

While both parties sped along on a head-on collision course, they were kicking up plenty of dust to choke and blind the bystanders.

Fortunately the food-retailing industry, as it often does in times of crisis, stepped in to provide some assistance.

When the shutdown first began, for example, Food Marketing Institute began hearing from members that there was a lot of confusion among consumers about whether or not their benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants and Children plan SNAP and WIC, respectively would be cut off.

"There was a lot of confusion about what benefits were going to be available, and what benefits were not going to be available," Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president, government and public affairs, FMI, told SN. "With the shutdown, there wasn’t a spokesperson from the USDA that could disseminate that information."

So, FMI quickly issued a statement of its own to help clarify the misinformation, explaining that SNAP benefits would be funded through the month of October, and that WIC benefits appeared on relatively solid ground, although it was less certain about funding for that program.

FMI’s lack of certainty proved prescient. Just a few days later North Carolina said it would no longer print WIC vouchers and was not taking new enrollees.


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Enter Food Lion.

No sooner had the state issued the cutoff than the Salisbury, N.C.-based chain revealed that it was donating half a million dollars in $5 gift cards to seven food banks around the state. Thats just a fraction of the $16 million or so that program spends in a typical month on its 206,000 recipients, but it should be a big help.

That effort mirrors others around country in which supermarkets have donated to food banks, or offered special discounts to military families when the nation’s military commissaries were closed temporarily at the start of the shutdown. Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, for example, gave military families a 10% discount, and United Supermarkets in Texas expanded its military discount to seven days a week.

It all goes to show that while the nation’s leaders may let their customers down from time to time, the neighborhood grocery store will not.

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Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...

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