U.S. reps seek aid for small grocers

May 7, 2020
In The News

Thirteen members of the New York State delegation to Congress, including all seven representing Queens, have signed a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) requesting that bodegas and small markets — and the low-income people who rely on them — receive targeted assistance in the next round of COVID-19 relief funding.

The top signature on the letter was that of Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing).

“New York City has approximately 13,000 bodegas, ethnic grocery stores and other small independent supermarkets,” Meng said in a statement issued by her office. “They serve a critical need for many communities in Queens and across New York City and cater to specific cultural food preferences for the neighborhoods they serve. They too are feeling the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis and deserve relief.”

Other signatories include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens), Hakeem Jeffries (Queens, Brooklyn), Tom Suozzi (D-Suffolk, Nassau, Queens), Nydia Velazquez (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens), Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens) and Gregory Meeks (D-Queens, Nassau).

Also signing on were Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan, Bronx), Kathleen Rice (D-Nassau), Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn), Eliot Engel (D-Bronx, Westchester), Jose Serrano (D-Manhattan, Bronx) and Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan, Brooklyn).

“We strongly request that the next stimulus package address the millions of Americans who were food insecure before COVID-19, and the millions who will be driven into hunger because of it,” said the letter, dated April 30.

“Small grocers provide a unique access point to ensure that those who are food insecure can purchase healthy foods and fresh produce,” the delegation added. “While major grocery chains are struggling to keep up with panic buying of toilet paper, paper towels, and other staples, New Yorkers are turning to their community stores for these critical supplies.”

The letter asks House leaders to support grants to be directed toward the purchase of refrigeration units to store fresh produce and to offset the increase in utility costs as a result of refrigeration, as well as the capacity to directly link farms in rural areas and small grocers in order to create new points of sale for local meat, produce and dairy.

“This would not only address food insecurity in urban districts, but would also support farmers who are so desperately in need of relief as the restaurants that they would normally sell have temporarily or permanently closed,” they wrote.

Using an existing New York City program as an example, they also are requesting authorization for a national Healthy Bodega Campaign, which aims to boost the availability of and demand for healthy foods in neighborhoods with the highest rates of poverty and chronic diseases.

Pelosi and McCarthy also are being asked to back:

• increased funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, to address the food needs of more than 40 million food-insecure Americans;

• hazard pay for frontline grocery store employees;

• the exemption of wages earned by workers in the grocery industry and their suppliers from 2020 federal income tax;

• an assurance that the stimulus checks provided to Americans with Social Security numbers are retroactively provided to people who instead use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers; and

• unemployment insurance “for those who qualify for it regardless of citizenship status.”

Any such plan also would have to pass muster in both the House and the Republican-controlled Senate.