The following blog post originally ran in the IGA’s The Independent View. More info on that newsletter here.
By: Chris Jones
NGA Vice President of Government Relations and Counsel
It’s the dog days of summer in Washington, D.C., and Congress is a step closer towards enacting one of its top agenda items, the 2018 Farm Bill. Before Congress left town for the Fourth of July recess, the Senate passed a Farm Bill by a vote of 86-11, and the House barely squeaked through a bill by a 213-211 vote. In the coming weeks, Congress will convene a Conference Committee to reconcile the differences between the two bills, in a manner we remember from School House Rock, but a rarity in the modern political climate.
Federal agriculture program funding will expire September 30 unless Congress acts, an unacceptable result for farm state lawmakers facing re-election and representing producers dealing with low crop prices and an escalating trade war. Clearly, a lot is at stake for U.S. farmers and ranchers, but independent grocers may have more on the line than ever in this Farm Bill process.
In addition to farm programs, the Farm Bill reauthorizes nutrition programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). As grocers know, the SNAP program has come under fire in recent months. In February, the Trump Administration proposed a “Harvest Box” program that would convert 40 percent of SNAP funding into a government food delivery service. We’ve also seen numerous other harmful SNAP proposals pop up, such as the taxing of SNAP redemptions, repealing the interchange prohibition on EBT transactions, costly data reporting mandates, and the imposition of restrictions on SNAP purchases. Fortunately, thanks to the engagement of NGA and IGA members in the Farm Bill process, we made sure these ill-conceived policies were off the table.
In a clear example of the power of grassroots advocacy, Jim Shook, owner of Lake Region IGA in Hawley, Pennsylvania, coordinated with NGA to give his Member of Congress, Tom Marino (R-PA), a tour of his store. Mr. Shook took the opportunity to explain why one of Rep. Marino’s legislative proposals, a bill to mandate the collection and public reporting of SNAP item-level purchase data, would be problematic for independent supermarkets. When the Farm Bill made its way to the House Floor, Mr. Marino offered this proposal as an amendment to the bill. Mr. Shook caught word, and contacted Rep. Marino, to remind him of their discussion during the store tour. In response, the amendment was withdrawn.
Mr. Shook’s story is yet one example of how the engagement of independent supermarket owners can help to shape the legislative process. A combination of grassroots advocacy, direct lobbying, participation in the Day in Washington fly-in, and IGA’s partnership with NGA, is the reason that the Farm Bill didn’t include policies that would harm supermarkets. In fact, the House Farm Bill includes significant wins for independent grocers, such as eliminating EBT processing fees, protecting your confidential sales data, and vastly expanding nutrition incentive programs, such as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. The Senate bill also included many of these important policy victories.
There are still significant hurdles to overcome before the legislation ends up on the President’s desk, including reconciling two vastly different Farm Bills. NGA and IGA will continue to be heavily involved in the legislative process to ensure the final 2018 Farm Bill preserves and strengthens the public private SNAP partnership. We appreciate the help of IGA retailers in achieving this goal, and we look forward to your continued engagement.