Washington, DC — June 27, 2001 — By taking “commonsense” initiatives, the government can improve service for food stamp users and help reduce delays in checkout lines, according to testimony today by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry.

In the testimony, Rich Savner, director of public affairs and government relations at Pathmark Stores, Inc., and a member of FMI’s Government Relations Committee, presented three initiatives that would cost taxpayers little or no money:

  • Two weeks before a store opens, complete the administrative process allowing it to accept food stamps by assigning a Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Authorization number. This measure would ensure that retailers can serve food stamp customers during the opening days, which are often the busiest.

  • Issue test cards that retailers can use to ensure that their electronic food stamp systems work properly before the systems are activated. Retailers would pay for the test cards for these electronic benefit transfer (EBT) systems.

  • Allow retailers to use backup programs during EBT system outages so they can continue to handle food stamp transactions. This measure would eliminate the need to call often-busy government phone numbers to authorize transactions, creating long lines of increasingly frustrated shoppers.

The third proposal was prompted by widespread and frequent EBT system failures in 2000, which peaked in August and September when outages occurred one out of every three days. The failure rate has now subsided with significant outages primarily confined to catastrophic events such as the recent flooding in Texas.

EBT systems are now operating in 40 states, and the rest are required by law to implement them by Oct. 1, 2002.

Combine Food Stamp and WIC Applications

Savner proposed another initiative that would save taxpayers money by reducing duplicative paperwork for the food stamp and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs. “Currently. . . different agencies review applications and inspect stores for each program. . . . [FMI] encourages this committee to review the application process for these two programs and make recommendations to USDA to streamline duplicative procedures.”

He noted major delays in the application process encountered by Pathmark, which has invested millions of dollars in inner-city development. In 1999, the company opened a $7 million store in a “very poor neighborhood” in North Philadelphia. It was authorized to accept food stamps but had to wait three months for the authority to handle WIC transactions. Pathmark experienced a delay of the same length at a new store in a similar Philadelphia neighborhood.

Savner emphasized that “there has been a national focus on investing in the inner city. It serves both the recipient and the retailer to have WIC authorization at the time of a store opening. The food retail industry has made a significant commitment to revitalizing communities, and timely authorization to participate in the WIC program will help us provide nutritious food to populations in need.”