Pasta, potatoes, eggs and bread are just a few of the items that Wegmans chose to discount from Feb. 16 to March 2 in response to a shortage in national food stamp funding and lingering food insecurity after the government shutdown.
Among the discounted items at the chain, which has a location in Ithaca, include Wegmans brand iceberg lettuce, skinless chicken breasts, frozen vegetables and ready-to-serve soup.
Compared to alternatives like Greenstar Food Co-op—which is selling pasta for $1.40 more, eggs for 57 cents more, and pasta sauce for $2.20 more—Wegmans is currently a cheaper option.
During the longest-running government shutdown in national history, the Trump administration mandated states disperse food stamps intended for February by Jan. 20 to aid Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries. New York State released SNAP funds by Jan. 17.
Because food stamps were distributed several weeks ahead of schedule, there is concern among SNAP recipients about not having enough funds for February. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states on its website that if states do not move up food stamp distribution for upcoming months, the “risk of a long period between SNAP benefits is a concern.”
The chairman of the grocery giant, Danny Wegman, addressed these concerns in a statement about the discounts.
“One of our local United Way partners let us know there are people still dealing with the consequences of the recent government shutdown,” the statement reads. “They asked if we could help. In particular, they called out the fact that February SNAP… benefits were paid in advance, and that this timing created a challenge in February for some recipients.”
Wegman said the choice to shrink prices was in alignment with their company values to “ensure a healthy and vibrant place for our employees and customers to live and work.”
Jake Wilcox, an Ithaca Wegmans Service Team Leader, explained how the company chose which foods to discount. “I think [Wegmans administrators] just went with the most popular, necessity type items, the lower ticket items, too, that were really fast-selling,” Wilcox said.
These price cuts come following similar reductions at competitor chains Giant Food Stores and Weis Markets. However, their reductions are not in response to the government shutdown.
Wegmans is located close to campus and is frequented by students for grocery shopping. “An added bonus [of the price reductions],” Claire Malkin ’19 noted, is that “Cornell students who are more food insecure and cannot afford to shop at Wegmans regularly likely benefit from the price drops.”
Cornell students without meal plans are at risk of food insecurity, some resorting to hunting for free food, as recently reported by The New York Times.
“I think that the items chosen to be discounted are ones that could go into a staple diet both for college students and families on SNAP benefits,” Malkin said. “I think that the food items listed are much more applicable for families, but that students specifically looking for reduced prices could also benefit.”
Valerie Odonkor ’22 saw Wegmans’ decision as a nice way to help out the Tompkins County community. “There were some families who genuinely were just so concerned because they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to … put enough food on the table. Saving in little ways like this, that Wegmans has made possible, is one little way to help these families.”