Independent Store Operators Call for Governor Cuomo to Reform WIC (see full article & more images)
Albany, New York – Hundreds of store operators, employees, and WIC recipients took part in the first-ever legislative panel focusing on WIC reforms held at this year’s 29th annual SOMOS El Futuro Conference in the State Capitol.
The National Supermarket Association (NSA), which represents over 400 independent members in the New York metro area and Florida, has been leading the campaign so that WIC recipients do not have to travel miles for their specialty exempt baby formula. As it stands, the policy is that such formula can only be sold in supermarkets with pharmacies. In addition, the administration is attempting to reduce the number of locations where WIC cards can be used, which would create an increase burden on low-income New Yorkers.
The panel - "The Impact of WIC Reforms on Neighborhood Stores" - was filled to capacity, even with participants standing. High-ranking elected officials were also present including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., NY Public Advocate Letitia ‘Tish’ James, State Senators Adriano Espaillat and Jose Peralta and Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres. Staff from Governor Cuomo’s office was also in attendance.
"This is an issue we have been involved with since day one. There is no reason why we must continue to have the conversation with the same responses. We need action, and we need action now, today. Working together with Senator Jeff Klein and Assemblyman [Marcos] Crespo, we introduced legislation that will address these issues and help in our fight to reforming WIC in New York. I will continue to make this a very important issue because it impacts millions of needy New Yorkers who rely on WIC to feed their children. This is a serious matter which merits urgency from the Governor", stated Senator Espaillat.
Rudy Fuertes, President of the NSA, joined his members and also expressed his discontent and frustration.
"As our good friend Senator Espaillat stated, the NSA has been discussing these issues with the Department [of Health] and the response is always the same. We have also written to the Governor in several occasions, and they do not even provide a generic response. Our members are fully committed to serving our communities but policies like those proposed [by the Health Department] and the ongoing attacks on our industry are posing serious challenges for us. We thank Assemblyman Crespo for making this forum possible and bringing this issue to the attention of the Governor."
The panel, moderated by Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and State Senator also included Zulema Wiscovitch, EVP & CAO of Associated Supermarket Group (ASG); Michael Rosen, President & CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York; Ramon Murphy, President of the Bodega Association (ASOBEU) and Jenny Jorge, NSA Board Member respectfully. Brad Hutton, Director of the Center for Community Health, represented the Health Department.
Conference Chair Assemblyman Marcos Crespo was also in attendance for most of the panel and delivered closing remarks.
"I want to thank the NSA for mobilizing your members and coming up here. An issue like this one, which affects industries that have served our community when others left; or when others did not have any interest in those places they considered to be dangerous; or an industry that offers opportunities and jobs that others refuse to do so. This is an industry that we must protect. It’s very important to see the mobilization of your members and the intellect with which you present the issue and solutions."
Assemblyman Crespo closed by encouraging the Governor to work with the NSA and help solve the issues surrounding WIC. "While these issues are difficult, they [NSA] are here with an open mind, listening and trying to steer us in the right direction. We could it quickly, we could do more but this is a start of a better relationship."
Haile Rivera, NSA Executive Director expressed that "our members are the ones who are at their stores every day, speaking to their customers, many who know each other on a first name basis, and are deeply invested in the community. Our members hire local residents, are involved in many events and initiatives and despite other retailers either leaving, or going bankrupt or just have no interest in our community, our members are long-term partners. The Governor needs to understand this and we are here today to make sure he gets the message, sooner rather than later."
Other wholesalers who made the trip to SOMOS were Key Food, Foodtown, A&E Group, America’s Food Basket (AFB), and The Guzman Group respectively.