As the point of redemption for SNAP beneficiaries, food retailers play a critical front-line role in ensuring the program functions efficiently. A major impediment to this efficiency is non-staggered state distribution of SNAP benefits.
Currently, eight states issue SNAP benefits on only one day, and others, on just three days. This limited distribution creates a bottleneck for SNAP recipients and customers, as grocery lines become frustratingly long on that one day. Retailers can have stocking issues and labor concerns as well. For these reasons, FMI supports expanded distribution of SNAP benefits throughout the month – not just on a handful of days.
FMI maintains a schedule of the SNAP distribution dates in all 50-states, as well as a “SNAP Distribution Expansion Toolkit,” which retailers can use to advocate for expanded SNAP distribution in their states. Use the following links to view our “State-by-State Monthly SNAP Benefit Issuance Schedule,” in addition to the entire toolkit.
As expected, New York is shaping up to be the major battleground state for GMO labeling legislation, thanks to its large population and the resulting implications for trigger provisions in the already-enacted Connecticut and Maine laws. Last year, a labeling bill cleared two committees in the state Assembly before dying in the Ways and Means Committee as the legislative session ended.
This year, the NY legislature has been formally in session for barely over a week and five bills related to GMO labeling have been introduced. According to the Food Industry Alliance of New York, the bills to watch are S. 485 in the Senate, and its companion, A. 617 in the Assembly. Both have been referred to the Consumer Protection Committees in their respective chambers. Click here to see a full chart of all the New York GMO bills, plus the other state GMO labeling bills currently pending from this year.
On January 9, Republican Governor Paul LePage released his $6.3 billion biennial budget for FY 2016/2017. The cornerstone of the Governor’s budget is his tax proposal, which, he says, modernizes Maine’s tax code, lowers top individual and corporate income tax rates and eliminates the estate tax, among other items. He will look to make up some of the cuts with a broader and higher sales tax.
For example, the governor included a food tax. His proposal adds the underlined language below to the definition of “prepared foods” and increases the sales tax on “prepared foods” from 5.5% to 6.5%.
Should this part of his budget proposal pass, it will put Maine out of compliance with the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement and could therefore inhibit the state from collecting Internet sales taxes. Maine enacted legislation, effective October 9, 2013, to join the Streamlined Sales Tax Project. Also of note, Maine formerly had a "snack tax", but it was repealed in 2000. To see what other states have introduced regarding a food tax, view an FMI chart here.
Read more in this week's State Issues Report.
Indiana Rep. Cindy Ziemke (R-55) has introduced legislation that requires the division of family resources to establish a pilot program that allows SNAP benefits to be used only for food and beverages that have “sufficient nutritional value,” as determined by the division of family resources. H.B. 1193 will be heard on January 21 before the House Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee, of which Rep. Ziemke is the co-chair. The Indiana Retail Council notes that this bill passed the House last year but that they were able to kill it in the Senate. The Indiana Retail Council told FMI that they oppose any legislation that attempts to define nutritional foods in the SNAP program and will vigorously defend the ability of food retailers to serve the needs of all of their customers. Here is a copy of FMI’s talking points on SNAP food choice.
With their Republican trifecta held in check in November, Wisconsin leadership has put together an agenda that holds many conservative reforms, including SNAP. In their agenda, Assembly Republicans have said they will pursue placing a photo ID on all EBT cards and they will work to ensure that if someone receives assistance to purchase food, “a significant portion of that food is nutritious.” In addition, they will work to put a “reasonable limit” on the number of replacement cards someone can receive; screen for substance abuse; send all public assistance recipients an annual statement of benefits; which, they say, is a tangible and streamlined way of knowing how much help they received and from which programs. Here is a copy of the agenda.
Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that USDA dispatched agents to Massachusetts in August to investigate concerns on the implementation of a new state law regarding photos on SNAP EBT cards. On December 2, USDA sent a follow up letter to Massachusetts state agency staff on the findings of these concerns.
Specifically, USDA has “significant concerns” dealing with program access, staff communications and training, and also retailer communications and training from the state. In the letter, USDA specifies corrective actions that must be taken.
Regarding retailers, FNS is concerned that state agency at all levels believe that retailers must check the card at the POS to ensure the purchaser is the person pictured on the card. This puts Massachusetts in violation of the Food and Nutrition Act. In the letter, USDA directs the state to communicate to retailers that anyone authorized to use the card may use the card without having to submit to additional verification of identity, as use of the unique PIN associated with each card is sufficient verification of identity. Therefore, all household members and authorized representatives not pictured on the card can continue to access benefits. View USDA’s letter here.
The Massachusetts Food Association has informed their members from the inception of this law that nothing has changed with regard to accepting EBT photo ID cards; stores cannot and should not be asking to see the card if the customer knows the PIN and enters it correctly.
In November, USDA sent a similar letter to Maine, which has also implemented a photo requirement on the SNAP card. Here is the Maine letter. In addition, the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association reports that the Governor of Maine is expected to continue his efforts to reform Mainers’ generational dependency on “welfare” programs. A bill will likely include a sales prohibition on taxable foods items such as candy and soda under SNAP. There is keen interest amongst lawmakers as well to reduce a SNAP recipient’s ability to “spend” tax payer’s money on these types of foods.
Every week FMI's Local Monitoring Report tracks six issues of particular importance to the supermarket industry at the local level:
Last week, the Sunnyvale, California City Council voted to introduce an ordinance that requires Sunnyvale employers to pay a minimum wage of $10.30 per hour starting January 1, 2015, and include an annual adjustment to the minimum wage on the first of every year, based on the prior year's Consumer Price Index. The council also voted to include a resolution to work with the city of Mountain View on a regional $15 an hour minimum wage by 2018.
(2) A city, county, or other local public agency … that, before September 1, 2014, has passed a first reading of an ordinance or resolution expressing the intent to restrict single-use carryout bags and, before January 1, 2015, adopts an ordinance to restrict single-use carryout bags, may continue to enforce and implement the ordinance that was in effect before January 1, 2015.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) announced this week they will file a proposed referendum that would postpone implementation of the California bag ban until November 2016, so voters could decide its fate.
(From FMI's Local Monitoring Report).
In July 2013, USDA announced the results of USDA's Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) which took place between November 2011 and December 2012 in Hampden County, Massachusetts. The results were positive and USDA discussed additional steps USDA and its partners could take to encourage SNAP recipients to purchase healthy foods. This week, USDA announced a $31.5 million fruit and vegetable program for SNAP, so that recipients can more easily afford healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program, a new Farm Bill program, brings together stakeholders from distinct parts of the food system and fosters understanding of how they might improve the nutrition and health status of SNAP households. Under FINI, applicants may propose relatively small pilot projects, multi-year community-based projects, or larger-scale multi-year projects.
California Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags on Tuesday. The bill, S.B. 270, cleared the legislature in late-August, in the final hours of the legislative session. It commanded the support of a wide range of industry, labor and environmental groups, including the California Grocers Association (CGA).
USDA announced this week that $5 million in grant funds were awarded to seven states to identify, track, and prevent misuse of SNAP benefits by recipients. The SNAP Recipient Trafficking Prevention Grant Program was designed to improve outcomes in the prevention, detection, and prosecution of recipient trafficking. The grantees are:
Florida - $345,576
Kentucky - $1,189,890
Missouri - $599,642
Ohio - $15,000
Oregon - $314,844
Tennessee - $1,484,618
Washington - $750,984
The states will implement strategies to improve the effectiveness of integrity monitoring efforts and increase the number of investigations of recipients suspected of trafficking SNAP benefits. For example, Oregon is combining analytics and the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to better target fraud related to excessive EBT card replacement requests. The state of Washington is using innovative strategies to monitor and investigate fraud occurring via social media and e-commerce websites.
According to USDA, the vast majority of SNAP recipients and retailers abide by the rules. Read more in this week's State Issues Report.
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» Facts & Figures
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