On May 7th, our co-op board president, Philip Trevvett, had the honor of being invited to discuss the impact co-ops have on the local economy. In attendance was US Vice President Kamala Harris, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and our RI elected officials. The meeting took place at Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG)
Joining him was Sandra Enos of Giving Beyond the Box, Sterling Stallman Incred-a-bowl Food Truck, and Dr. Eugenio Fernandez Jr of Asthenis. Congrats to you all on your wonderful social impact pitches!
Meanwhile, our GM John has been busy at the state house speaking in favor of taxing sugary beverages in order to increase funding for fresh produce buying with SNAP!
Click here to see Phil and Kamala.
Here’s Phil’s brief:
Hello, my name is Philip Trevvett. I am one of the founders of Urban Greens Co op Market. Urban Greens is a thriving coop grocery store owned by over 2900 members and growing. The coop is located at the intersection of three culturally, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhoods, all with limited food access. Urban greens mission is twofold to increase access to healthy foods in underserved communities and to strengthen the local food system by bringing local products to a one stop shop environment. Urban Greens opened its doors in June of 2019. So we’d been open less than a year when the pandemic hit as the grocery demand exploded, we felt it immediately as a community store. We were able to quickly find alternative suppliers. So we built a reputation as a safe, clean and well stocked store where people could shop and we never ran out of toilet paper. Of course, there were tremendous challenges as a young store. we were forced to mature by years in the span of weeks. On top of that, there were the increased staff needs in order to keep up with really important covid protocols. Our P. P. P. Loan was critical in helping us through those challenges and with that and other support, the coop was able to step up in tremendous ways. We implemented a 10% discount for all low income co op members. We instituted permanent pay raises for staff and we partnered with the city of Providence and community organizations to distribute over 21,000 meals to families impacted by COVID. Looking ahead, we are excited to be part of a growing movement of cooperative businesses across this country and here in Rhode island. Co-ops work for communities and we are thrilled to see a future where cooperatives like Urban Greens can play a key role in building a more equitable economy and creating real community wealth on a national scale. Thank you.
Equitable access to healthy food is one of the most important values driving my work as the General Manager of Urban Greens Co-Op Market. Our mission is to be open to all and support the health and well-being of our customers by offering nutritious, affordable food. A cornerstone of equitable food access is accepting customers who pay with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
SNAP provides families, many of whom are co-op members, with important monthly funds to purchase food, while also serving as an important part of the sustainability of local and regional food systems and employment. Currently, there is legislation being heard in the General Assembly to expand SNAP benefits for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable families through the implementation of a Retail SNAP Incentive Program.
Introduced by Senator Valarie Lawson and Representative Jean Philipe Barrows, S0327 and H5715 would enable all SNAP recipients to receive 50% off their fresh produce purchases at SNAP eligible retailers across the state. As a grocery retailer with over 30 years of experience, I offer my strong support of this legislation.
I can personally attest to the expansion of SNAP being an important investment in families, and a source of economic and employment growth, and there are numerous scientific studies that validate this. In a recent report on the economic contributions of SNAP incentives, Colorado State University reported, “for every $1 dollar invested in a healthy food incentive program, we can expect to see up to $3 in economic activity generated.”
In Rhode Island, this legislation would use the revenue generated from a 1.5 cent per ounce sugary drinks tax to fund a Retail SNAP Incentive Program to alleviate hunger and bring economic growth to our state, particularly for the grocery retail, produce distribution and local farming industries. Funding a Retail SNAP Incentive Program through a sugary drinks tax will not only expand access to healthy and nutritious food across Rhode Island’s communities, it will have positive economic benefits as well.
Look at Seattle as an example. Through the implementation of a sugary drinks tax, Seattle raised approximately $22 million in 2018 alone to implement evidence-based food access policy which boosted retailers’ produce sales by 15%. The economic impact has been overwhelmingly
positive as evidenced by the creation of 24.7 new jobs after investment in their SNAP incentive programming.
Opponents of this legislation, primarily advocates working on behalf of the soda lobby, have argued that a tax on sugary drinks will lead to job loss. This is simply false. wo years after implementing a sugary drinks tax, Berkeley, California has experienced a 15% increase in food sector sales and a 7.2% rise in food sector employment. In Philadelphia, a similar sugary drink tax has generated $191.7 million in less than three years to reinvest in early childhood education and community parks. Philadelphia’s sugary drinks tax has not led to any job loss whatsoever; in fact,the first year of this tax resulted in 275 living wage jobs and 120 summer jobs for students as a result of the economic impact of this healthy food access policy.
The steady growth of food sector jobs in these cities illustrates ways that public health policy aligns with positive economic growth. Each of these municipalities is experiencing food sector job growth, and they happen to be about the size and composition of Rhode Island. They offer important evidence for the benefits of implementing a Retail SNAP Incentive Program in Rhode Island, creating a food sector based economic stimulus while simultaneously alleviating the alarmingly high rate of hunger in this state.
The revenue from this proposed tax is directed right back into a hunger alleviation program for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable families with the dual benefit of boosting the economy for the retail, produce distribution and local farming industries. It is ludicrous to think that a penny and a half tax will undermine the sweetened beverage industry or inhibit job growth. With this legislation we have the opportunity to expand healthy food access and alleviate hunger for thousands of Rhode Islanders while boosting our local economy.