In addition to welcoming the new administration, the National Grocers Association, which represents the independent supermarket industry, has penned a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris that outlines legislative priorities of its members, including employee tax relief, liability protection, assistance with accepting SNAP benefits online, credit card fees, minimum wage and enforcement of antitrust laws.
The letter, signed by Greg Ferrara, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based NGA, offers details on each priority:
- Employee tax relief: “A recent NGA/FMS Solutions study shows that more than 85% of independent grocers have been paying associates above and beyond their current hourly rates or salaries, including an additional $2 per hour hero pay, gift card bonuses, lump sum bonuses and more throughout the pandemic. The government should go a step farther and reward these essential grocery workers through gross income tax and temporary payroll tax relief,” Ferrara states in the letter.
- Liability protection: After a provision that would have protected grocers and other businesses from liability lawsuits stemming from their efforts to safeguard employees and guests was omitted in the final COVID-19 relief bill that passed in December, NGA urged lawmakers to reconsider the issue. And now it is bringing the issue to the new administration. “Many grocers have faced frivolous litigation simply for remaining open during the pandemic,” the letter reads. “America’s community grocers, which are considered ‘critical infrastructure’ by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, need protections from unnecessary liability exposure, so long as they have worked in best faith to comply with federal, state and local guidance.”
- Assistance with accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for online purchases: “The pandemic has resulted in an increasing demand for customers to purchase groceries online using SNAP benefits, but not all SNAP customers have this option. The program is expensive and technically challenging for small retailers to set up, while larger big box competitors have expanded nationwide. We request that your administration invests in helping mid-size and small independent grocers launch SNAP online purchasing so they can offer e-commerce to all customers,” the letter states.
- Credit card fees: “One of the major expenses for grocers that continues to grow is the price of accepting credit and debit cards. To put it into perspective, U.S. merchants pay approximately $80 billion annually to process card payments,” Ferrara says in the letter. “We need your help in making the card payments marketplace more competitive and secure for consumers, merchants, banks and the economy.”
- Minimum wage: “NGA is also concerned with raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is impractical for many independent grocers operating in lower cost of living geographic regions. A $15 federal minimum wage would create an unlevel playing field between large and small businesses, further exacerbate America’s food desert problem, and disincentivize grocers from hiring youth and Americans with disabilities,” the letter states.
- Enforcement of antitrust laws: “Economic discrimination allowed by a lack of enforcement of the Robinson-Patman Act has caused significant harm to independent grocers by dominant players in the grocery marketplace. ‘Big Tech’ e-commerce giants use their ‘buyer power’ to impose conditions on manufacturers and supplies that disadvantage small retailers and impair their ability to compete,” the letter reads. “Antitrust enforcement agencies must be held accountable and antitrust law modernization should address harm caused by power buyers and discriminatory vertical conduct by dominant firms that undermines the competitiveness of small and medium-sized independent retailers.”
Additionally, Ferrara expressed NGA looks forward to working with the new administration.
“NGA and its members, many of them family owners with multiple generations invested in serving and supporting local communities, are committed to working with you and your administration as we strive to grow local economies across the country grappling with one of the greatest challenges in a generation,” Ferrara said. “From supermarkets to distribution centers, grocery workers have toiled on the front lines during this pandemic, dedicated to feeding our nation.”
FMI–The Food Industry Association also expressed it looks forward to working with Biden, Harris and Congress “on issues impacting the food industry … and ensuring the voice of the food industry is represented authentically on Capitol Hill, to the White House and throughout the executive branch,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of FMI, said in a statement.
“While 2020 has presented a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, the food industry stands ready as essential partners to not only provide food and household products now, but also to serve as safe, convenient places for customers to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in the weeks and months ahead,” Sarasin continued. “Our 12,000 supermarket pharmacies are working fervently to get Americans vaccinated as safely and efficiently as possible while utilizing different types of vaccines. … It is essential that supermarket pharmacies and the broader food industry be part of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination effort.”