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Wal-Mart breaks silence on food stamps

Wal-Mart, which gets more business from food stamps than any other company in the United States, broke its silence on the debate over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Tuesday by issuing a statement urging Congress to minimize the impact on “those who need the program the most.”

But the company also released a transcript of Wal-Mart CEP Bill Simon’s news conference on third-quarter earnings that reveals the company’s complicated relationship with the level of SNAP benefits.

“We know that any reduction in SNAP benefits creates additional financial pressure on our customers who count on these benefits,” Wal-Mart said in a statement sent to The Hagstrom Report.

“Our customers always rely on us to be a price leader, and we take that responsibility seriously,” the statement said. “We remain focused on offering low prices to our customers every day so that they can stretch their food budgets even further. We have also provided online tools to help families maximize their budgets.”

“As Congress considers changes to the SNAP program, we encourage them to adopt reforms that do not impact those who need the program the most. We also believe Congress should continue to support improved program efficiency, and efforts to minimize waste and abuse, which take away from those most in need.”

In the media call last Thursday discussing the company’s earnings, Simon said, “SNAP customers are now trying to digest what might be a change coming there.”

He added that the expiration of higher benefit levels under the Recovery Act on November 1 “doesn’t come instantaneously, so that everyone’s aware.”

“The benefits are distributed at different points in the month depending on the person and their geographic location,” he said. “And they’re distributed in a lump sum typically, so that if they were reduced by some percentage, we may or may not see the impact of that until the end of the month, rather than the beginning of the month.

“So I’m not able to give you a view on whether or not there’s an impact at this point. We look at historical data, and to be quite honest with you, when the benefits were expanded in 2009, our market share percentage of the SNAP benefits actually went down,” Simon said.

“So we look at that and we understand that when price is more important to the customer we have to be prepared to serve them.”