Killing the Harvest Box Vampire

Recently I joined a host of IGA retailers and wholesalers at the NGA / FMI Day in Washington Supermarket Industry Fly-In event, where members of the independent grocery industry met with senators and congressional representatives from almost every state. IGA has always participated in this event because we believe it is important to show support for our trade associations on issues our retailers care about, but this year attendance was even more crucial.

I went with a mission: To kill the Harvest Box once and for all. To stick a stake through the heart of this vampire and make sure it never comes to life again.

As you well know, the administration’s Harvest Box plan proposed shifting 40 percent or more of SNAP benefits from EBT cards now used at local stores to a government-led, direct-shipped food box. Somehow, somewhere, someone in government thought that our federal government would be more efficient delivering food (like a federal Blue Apron), rather than letting retailers and wholesalers do what they know how to do so well: deliver fresh food to every location in the country daily, at extremely low cost.

Ludicrous ideas sometimes take on a life of their own, especially in this era of Twitter-based policy and “fake news”. Shifting the responsibility for food distribution from the private to the public sector seemed fantastical coming from a small-government mandate Republican administration, but there it was, proposed and apparently seriously considered as a legitimate way to reduce costs.

High praise goes to our partners at NGA and FMI who helped us navigate the complex space, making sure the voice of the independent retailer was clearly heard over last few months, and leading the charge as we descended on Washington.

And special thanks to all the IGA retailers and wholesalers who joined the fight, connecting in Washington and at home with your local representatives to get our message out.

Laurel Grocery Company’s Winston Griffin (left) and Ross (right) meet with Congressman Comer (middle).

Laurel Grocery Company’s Winston Griffin (left) and Ross (right) meet with Congressman Comer (middle).

Independent retailers have clout because we represent not only the jobs and tax dollars we create, but also because of the family businesses and local farms that depend on our high-traffic / high-volume stores to succeed. Our legislators all know that if the local grocery store fails in small town America, so fails the town.

Our government heard our collective voices, and now we’re seeing the pay-off. Late last week the House released the 2018 farm bill, the massive bipartisan bill responsible for SNAP and other food and nutrition legislation, and the Harvest Box vampire that threatened to suck the blood out of retail is not in it. No mention of boxes, no suggestion of test programs, nothing.


Senator Durbin meets with Ross and other grocers

Senator Durbin meets with Ross and other grocers

On top of that, the farm bill proposes some beneficial provisions we think should be great for IGA, like supplemental dollar incentives for SNAP shoppers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, driving more trips to grocery stores instead of dollar stores and convenience outlets.

And unlike a similar program from the last version of the bill, these supplemental bonuses are baselined, designed to be a permanent part of the food subsidy program going forward.

It looks like small business (and our allies) won this battle, but with new restrictions and caveats in the farm bill, IGA has to remain diligent in our efforts to protect the families we serve. Especially those in economically depressed areas where jobs are scarce, and SNAP-related work requirements that make sense in other parts of the country have the potential to become an impossible burden.

The good news is we have a powerful voice when we work together, and our lawmakers are listening.


Ross meets with Senator Mitch McConnell

Ross meets with Senator Mitch McConnell

At Day in Washington, I met with congressmen and senators from Louisiana, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Kentucky, North Carolina and more; Republicans and Democrats from junior representatives to senior politicians like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell himself. I can tell you that I won’t stop the fight to ensure that our independent family grocers stay a living, breathing, healthy part of our communities. I won’t back off until our part of keeping American families healthy and fed is supported and assured.

And I will pick up the hammer and stake and return to DC if the stupid Harvest Box vampire even peaks out of its coffin again.