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Grocers Feeling Effects of Government Shutdown

Problems with EBT benefits are starting to take a toll
Photograph: Shutterstock

Grocers across the country are stepping in to help furloughed workers where they can while dealing with their own struggles as the partial government shutdown continues to wear on.

The shutdown has complicated Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, with February funds being credited early as part of a solution from the USDA and no word on what will happen for March. 

In one case, a St. Louis Save-A-Lot may need to temporarily close its doors due to most of its SNAP customers, which make up 73% of its revenue, having already spent their February benefits, the Belleville News-Democrat reported. 

Franchise owner Robert Bonner told the News-Democrat that if March’s benefits are not credited due to the shutdown, his business will be in trouble.

“I would have to shut my doors until our government, both Democrat and Republican, steps up and supports our constitution,” Bonner said.

The shutdown is also rendering some grocers unable to accept SNAP benefits at all, such as Cincinnati-based Clifton Markets, which has not been able to apply for a license to accept EBT (electronic benefits transfer) payments that was up for renewal, WCPO news reported

"There have been a few incidents where people missed the sign and have done all of their shopping and then come time to pay, they find out that we weren't taking it," store manager Gurmukh Singh told the news outlet. 

The same is true at a York County, Pa., D&K Surplus Grocery, which changed ownership last month and needed to reapply for its license, Fox 43 reported. The application was put on hold as the shutdown commenced and the 600 SNAP customers that shop at its store each week have been unable to use their benefits. 

On the other hand, many grocers are stepping up to help federal workers in their communities that have gone weeks without pay. 

In Wisconsin, Metcalfe’s is providing a 20% discount on groceries to all federal workers who show government identification at checkout, the same discount that the retailer gives to its employees. The initiative will continue through the end of the month or until the government shutdown ceases.

Fourth-generation grocer and co-owner Tim Metcalfe said he believes that helping those in need should be the responsibility of all community members, including businesses like his.

“Our company works with a ‘why’ in mind for everything we do and that is: to connect and enrich people, our community and beyond,” Metcalfe said.

On the West Coast, New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets are offering a 15% discount to federal workers at locations in Oregon, Washington and California, which company officials said was inspired by discussions among staff and “immediately embraced by the organization.”

“New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets are passionate about feeding and nourishing our communities,” said Mark Law, COO of New Seasons Market and New Leaf Community Markets. “While we wait for an end to the partial government shutdown, we’d like to make that a little easier for affected federal employees and contractors.”

Safeway is working to help furloughed shoppers in its Baltimore community by donating dog and cat food to the Baltimore Humane Society.

The retailer donated $10,000 worth of its private label pet food, providing the shelter with supply aimed to meet the needs of affected pet owners.

Food City in El Paso, Texas, is offering furloughed shoppers five food items from a specified list for $5, reported CBS 4 News.

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