LANSING, Mich. — Michigan is moving toward becoming the first state to offer food stamps twice a month, after the state Senate passed a bill authorizing the change.
“This is something we've been pushing for for years,” Linda Gobler, president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Grocers Association here, told SN.
The bill, S.B. 120, would likely cause food sales to be distributed more evenly throughout the month, she said. The change would also facilitate labor scheduling and product ordering, and could also better serve the nutritional needs of recipients by allowing them to buy more fresh foods from supermarkets late in the month, Gobler explained.
“It's difficult for [the recipients], especially with the focus on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables,” she said. “It's pretty difficult to do that if you are going to buy all of your food the first of the month. In fact, we were told by some shoppers that they were even doing things like buying gallons of milk and freezing it — and that's not the best way to buy milk.”
Roger Robinson, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876 in Detroit, said he has long supported this change, in part because it would facilitate the more even distribution of labor throughout the month, especially at inner-city stores.
“It's really a no-brainer to me,” he told SN last week. “The supply system would benefit — it's harder to keep a steady supply of fresh food when business drops 50% in the second 20 days of the month. We think it brings some value to our membership as well, because at the start of the month they get 40 hours, then by the end of the month they are lucky to get 10 or 12 hours.”
Robinson said he also advocates other changes to the food stamp program, such as prohibiting the use of food stamps at gas-station convenience stores.
Chris Michalakis, legislative and political director for the UFCW in Michigan, said he expects the state's House to support the bill. Last week it passed the House Family and Children's Services Committee and could soon come up for a vote before the full House.
“I don't think it will face much opposition,” he said. “We're expecting pretty big support — it passed with a huge margin in the Senate, and I would expect similar margins in the House.”
A spokeswoman for the UFCW national office in Washington said the union is aware of the legislative activity in Michigan, but is not pursuing changes on a national level.
Gobler of MGA said that although she does not know whether Gov. Jennifer Gran-holm supports the bill, a committee the governor formed to study nutrition issues also has recommended the change to twice-monthly benefits.
“One of their conclusions was that people really do need access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and in order to facilitate that, we need to issue food stamps more than once a month,” Gobler said.
The State Department of Human Services is currently surveying food stamp recipients concerning the proposed change. About 1 million people in Michigan receive food assistance each year, according to reports.
Gobler said some estimates have put the cost of the change at about $600,000, half of which would come from the federal government.
“When we approached our state Department of Social Services several years ago, there was a lot of opposition, because at the time, the USDA was still issuing paper coupons,” Gobler said.
Now that states have switched to electronic benefit systems, the costs would be reduced, she said.
“It's like the sun and the moon and the stars all lined up for the first time for us,” she said.