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Federal spending bill to make grocers ‘Big Brother’ for SNAP

Supermarket cashiers would be “food police” according to NGA

The National Grocers Association (NGA) is calling on leaders in Congress to oppose proposed restrictions on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds in the FY2024 House Agriculture Appropriations bill.

The NGA released a statement on Tuesday saying that two provisions in the bill would undermine the SNAP program that is used by millions of Americans. 

One of those proposals would establish a pilot program “to catalog and restrict SNAP purchases,” while the other would “collect SNAP purchasing data with the goal of eventually restricting SNAP purchases,” according to the NGA. 

“One of the main reasons SNAP is such an effective program is because of the ease of processing transactions for both retailers and beneficiaries, allowing folks to make the best decisions for their nutritional needs and families,” said Stephanie Johnson, RDN, NGA vice president of government relations, in a press release. “Independent grocers support SNAP choice because it maintains an already successful program and ensures families can shop with the same dignity and ease as any other grocery customer.”

The NGA letter, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, notes that 2,472 businesses and trade associations signed the letter urging congressional leaders to remove the two provisions.  

The letter noted that SNAP is historically more flexible than other supplemental nutrition programs such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. 

“The dietary needs of the SNAP population are diverse and no one diet would be appropriate for all participants. For instance, a cancer patient struggling to gain weight doesn’t have the same needs as a child fighting diabetes,” the letter states. “WIC’s restrictive nature limits retailer participation to 46,000 stores; SNAP’s simpler structure boasts a network of 259,000 retailers, improving accessibility.”

Limiting eligible items approved for SNAP purchases will drive up costs and “strangle the program with needless red tape with no meaningful public health outcome to show in return.”

“The government will need to categorize more than 600,000 products and update the list each year with thousands more products. Grocery store cashiers will become the food police, telling parents what they can and cannot feed their families,” the NGA letter added.

The bill also creates a program to “surveil SNAP purchases,” requiring retailers to spy on customers and report back to the federal government, according to the letter. 

“No consumer purchases have ever been subjected to this Orwellian level of snooping by the federal government, and it would set a terrifying precedent of intruding on the most private areas of our lives. The surveillance would yield incomplete data that would be useless for scientific study because SNAP purchases are only a portion of what beneficiaries purchase,” the letter added. “On the other side of the register, retailers would be obligated to safeguard the confidential information from both criminals and competitors looking to get an edge.”

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