Big Box To Blame for Food Prices; Food Stamp Requirements Increase; Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act; America’s Antisemitism Campaign; Fentanyl Penalties Continue; Wetlands Lose EPA

Blame Walmart and Amazon for Higher Food Prices

There’s no doubt that the costs of everything at the grocery store – from meat, fresh fruit and vegetables to butter milk, eggs and even soft drinks – have risen significantly since the pandemic began. The ability for farmers and other manufacturers to produce all these products and pandemic-related supply chain interruptions are certainly part of the problem. But the real culprits are conglomerates like Walmart and Amazon who buy the most products and have the biggest stick when it comes to negotiating prices and quick delivery when inventory is scarce. Oftentimes during the pandemic, only the largest chain stores or Amazon were fully stocked forcing consumers to ignore the smaller businesses who rely on customers from the surrounding neighborhood. 

When the two mega-buyers want a discount on a particular item, let’s say paper towels for example, they usually get it. For manufacturers to make up for that loss of income, they will increase the price of the same item to smaller buyers. This trickle-down drives up operating costs for the much smaller mom-and-pop groceries and bodegas, especially in ethnic neighborhoods, which end up passing those costs on to their unsuspecting customers who have the least ability to absorb higher prices.

The federal government is also to blame for disregarding policies that previously created an equal playing field for all grocery stores regardless of size. This change which occurred over decades has helped create food deserts and forced the closure of thousands of independent grocery stores – many owned by minorities. If the federal government agrees to the purchase of Albertson’s by the Kroger’s chain, five retailers will control more than 50 percent of grocery sales, according to the New York Times.

In addition, today’s manufacturers are eager to scoop up popular brands which gives them a greater ability to set prices. For example, General Mills sells much more than Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  A consumer can also purchase forty-four other items including Blue Buffalo dog food, Bugles, Chex Mix, EPIC and Fiber One bars, Green Giant vegetables, Oui yogurt, Progresso soups, Haagen-Dazs ice cream and even Totino’s/Jeno’s pizza.

With less competition, brands like Pepsico and General Mills are able to increase prices even when their costs have not risen. In 2021, a bi-partisan group of legislators asked the federal government to review grocery store supply chain issues to determine if price discrimination exists. A study of the pricing structure of alcohol and soft drink manufacturers has already begun.

Work Requirements To Increase for Food Stamp Recipients

Recent negotiations by President Biden and Congressional Democrats to raise the debt ceiling will increase the burden on able-bodied adults currently participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Under the new rules able-bodied adults who regularly receive food stamps will have to work or be enrolled in a training program 80 hours per month. This requirement will apply to all individuals ages 54 and younger who do not have children. If work/training requirements are not met, participants will only be able to receive SNAP benefits for three months in a three-year period. The current rules only apply to individuals who are 49 and younger.  

Many experts believe the new policy will hit the unhoused population especially hard. More than 40 million American families currently receive food stamps each month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average monthly payment is $169. 

Conviction of Aggravated Homosexuality Could Lead to Death Sentence in Uganda

Uganda’s president Yoweri Musevent recently signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, one of the world’s toughest pieces of anti-gay legislation. Under the new law, individuals who are caught engaging in gay sex could be sentenced to life in prison. Those citizens who seek to have a same-sex relationship could face up to 10 years in prison. A death sentence is also now on the books for “aggravated homosexuality” which is defined as same-sex relations with the disabled or children.

President Biden voiced his disappointment in the new law and said it was a “tragic violation of universal human rights.” He called for a re-evaluation of all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda. Other African nations including Kenya and Ghana are also considering anti-gay legislation.

Race & Ethnicity Should Be a Factor in College Admissions

While the U.S. Supreme Court reviews two cases involving admission policies that impacted Asian students at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, a new poll by the Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s NORC Center found that a solid majority of adults (63 percent) believe that colleges should take into consideration the race and ethnicity of a prospective student. Poll participants also suggested that grades and scores from standardized tests should weigh into the process. Nine states including Florida and California have already rejected the use of race and ethnicity in admissions.

Drug Penalties for Fentanyl-Related Substances Will Continue

Legislation is moving through Congress that will make permanent the Schedule 1 controlled substance designation for fentanyl-related drugs. Such a designation will ensure more severe prison sentences for offenders. After the White House voiced support for the bill, a number of Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The opioid crisis is showing no signs of dissipating. Almost 75,000 Americans died from synthetic opioid overdose deaths in 2022 alone. Senate Democrats have yet to show wide support for companion legislation but are expected to sign on soon.

Biden Rolls Out Antisemitism Campaign

President Biden has launched a ground-breaking plan to combat antisemitism in the U.S. that calls for participation by law enforcement and schools. In 2022, close to 4,000 incidents of antisemitism were reported, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The strategy includes Holocaust education programs and workplace programs to counteract bias.

Wetlands Lose Protection by E.P.A.

In a move that shocked many environmentalists, the U.S. Supreme Court took away the E.P.A.’s power to guard wetlands in dozens of coastal states by a 5-4 vote on May 25, 2023. The majority of judges agreed that the Clean Water Act diminished the E.P.A. role in regulating discharges into wetlands near bodies of water unless they have “a continuous surface connection” to those waters. This ruling, which further diminishes the E.P.A. role to combat climate change, could have a disastrous effect on flooding and pollution.    

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