Balls Food Stores COO praises SNAP for helping local community members

Mike Beal, chief operating officer of Balls Food Stores, based in Kansas City, Kansas, testified June 8 in support of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at a hearing held by the Board of Agriculture of the United States House of Representatives on behalf of the National Grocers Association. (NGA), the Washington, DC-based trade association representing the independent sector of the supermarket industry.

Beal noted the importance of SNAP to Indians in his testimony before U.S. Representative Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., chairman of the Nutrition, Surveillance, and Department Operations Subcommittee; ranking member US Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb.; and other committee members. In 2020, SNAP was responsible for nearly 200,000 jobs in the U.S. food industry, earning salaries totaling more than $6.7 billion.

Referring to SNAP as “a shining example of public-private partnership,” Beal observed that the program is critical to the health of local communities.

“If it weren’t for SNAP, many grocery stores simply wouldn’t exist in areas that need them the most,” Beal said in his testimony. “Many rural areas across the country are home to high concentrations of SNAP participants who rely on local grocery stores to access healthy, affordable foods. In many small towns, the local independent grocer is the only store in town and is an anchor for the community. »

According to an Economic Research Service report released last November, SNAP created larger relative impacts in rural economies than in urban economies. For every dollar spent locally through the SNAP program, a positive economic benefit of $1.80 is realized, helping to keep local economies stronger and allowing them to recover faster from economic downturns and support local jobs.

The NGA strongly supports legislative proposals to improve SNAP online programs, particularly efforts to require the Secretary of Agriculture to implement SNAP online purchasing in all states, in addition to providing resources to develop and maintain a secure and easy to use online and application-based system. Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) portal to allow small retailers to offer products for SNAP purchase online.

“Independent grocers want to offer this service to their customers, and many have applied [the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service] participate,” Beal testified. “However, barriers to participation include technical challenges, financial constraints to launch and continuously operate the program, and a lengthy application and approval process.”

The NGA also supports increasing incentives to use SNAP benefits to purchase a range of foods, including fruits and vegetables, instead of restricting choice. “The dietary habits of SNAP and non-SNAP clients were found to be nearly identical by the USDA,” Beal pointed out. “Therefore, we do not believe that restricting choice will advance [this] important public health objective. Additionally, the SNAP choice restrictions would require the federal government to identify, rate, and track the nutrient profile of the thousands of foods available in grocery stores today, resulting in a convoluted “food code.”

The NGA has heartily endorsed the USDA’s decision to permanently increase SNAP monthly benefits by 27% effective October 1, 2021, the first major change to the program since 1975. The trade organization also supports the ban on EBT processing fees and supports extending the ban to restore competition in the procurement process.

“We want to work to maintain our existing strong public-private partnership with the SNAP program and continue to serve our rural and urban customers,” Beal said. “We hope to improve online shopping and do everything we can to inspire consumers to make better purchasing decisions. We want to maintain the level of benefits as much as possible. And we would like to ensure responsible control of operating costs to ensure that more retailers are able to provide services. »

Last year, NGA introduced a SNAP Online Shopping Toolkit detailing how retailers can prepare to accept SNAP EBT payments online. By streamlining the process, the association aimed to ensure that independent grocers did all they could to make essentials accessible to the most needy members of their communities.

Balls Food Stores is a third-generation, family-owned company that operates 27 retail grocery stores in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area, primarily under the Price Chopper and Hen House banners.